House to Vote on Bills to Delay Key Parts of Obamacare

Catherine Hollander
July 17, 2013

The House is set to vote Wednesday on two bills that would delay implementation of key pieces of the 2010 health reform law. Although the legislation isn’t likely to go anywhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate—and the White House has said it would veto the measures—Wednesday’s vote will reveal how many, if any, members believe that anything short of full repeal of the Affordable Care Act could damage their efforts to take the law down.

Lawmakers will vote on two separate bills; one would delay the law’s requirements for individuals to obtain health coverage and the other would postpone requirements for large employers to offer health insurance for their employees. Even though the bills technically call for the law’s implementation—just at a later date—supporters argue that they easily fit into full-repeal efforts.

“I think anybody that’s for delay is for defunding as well,” said Ryan Ellis, tax-policy director at Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group that supports the moves. “It’s not an either/or. This is one way to get to grandma’s house.”

The measures are expected to receive broad support from the GOP conference. That would signify a shift from April, when the Helping Sick Americans Now Act, a bill supported by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., as a legislative priority, was pulled from the floor. Cantor failed to secure sufficient votes for the measure, aimed at transferring Affordable Care Act funding to a special insurance program for people with preexisting health conditions. But the House has previously passed legislation to defund or repeal parts of the law.

The latest measures are a response to the Obama administration’s announcement on July 2 that it would be granting businesses an extra year—until Jan. 1, 2015—to comply with a requirement to offer health insurance for their employees. Congressional Republicans immediately seized on the news as evidence that the law was poorly designed and raised questions about the legality of the administration’s actions.

On July 11, Reps. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., and Todd Young, R-Ind., introduced the Authority for Mandate Delay Act, which would delay the employer insurance mandate for one year, and the Fairness for American Families Act, which would delay the individual mandate for the same period.

The GOP is selling the bills to the public on a fairness argument, charging that it’s unfair for businesses to catch a break and for individuals to still face penalties if they don’t sign up for health insurance next year. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has been using the Twitter hashtag “#FairnessForAll” to discuss the upcoming vote.

Republicans are hoping to paint Democrats into a corner by forcing them to go on the record opposing a delay for individuals even though the administration granted businesses a reprieve. But House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday that even with House Republicans seeking to make “political hay” of Democrats’ votes on the two bills Wednesday, he believes that most in his party will stand firm.

“I think most Democrats will stick together on that,” said Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, who is in charge of counting votes.

Hoyer, speaking to reporters earlier Tuesday at his weekly news conference, said, “The first bill doesn’t do anything, as I understand it, beyond what the president has already done. So to that extent, it is sort of redundant and irrelevant.”

He dismissed the notion that voting against it would signal real opposition to the administration’s decision to delay.

Hoyer said the second bill would undermine “protections to millions of people,” and that Democrats believe the individual mandate ought to go forward. The administration was not favoring businesses over individuals, he said, but simply recognizing that employers needed more time for that requirement. The same problems do not exist for individuals, he said.

The employer mandate is seen as less crucial to the law’s success than the requirement that individuals obtain health insurance. An analysis released by the Urban Institute on Monday found that delaying the employer mandate for a year has “almost no effect” on overall coverage and government spending on insurance; delaying the individual mandate, on the other hand, would cripple the coverage expansion.

“Some have suggested that it is unfair to leave the individual mandate in place while delaying the employer mandate,” the report said. “Our analysis shows that the different requirements have dramatically different implications for cost and coverage under reform.”

In fact, delaying the individual mandate for one year could spur the precise effect that Republicans have worried will come from the Affordable Care Act—causing health insurance premiums to climb, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation said in a preliminary cost estimate on the bill Tuesday.

Some conservatives may dislike the bills to delay implementation “because it sounds like we’re giving up on repeal,” said Dean Clancy, vice president of public policy at FreedomWorks. But he expects every House Republican to support the measures. “Delay lets us fight another day and would send a very powerful signal to the whole country that this law is not fully baked; it’s not ready for prime time, it remains a bone of contention in Washington, and people should not count on Obamacare ever being implemented,” he said.

The CBO held off Tuesday from issuing a cost estimate for delaying the employer mandate by one year, saying it would “soon” release an analysis conducted with the Joint Committee on Taxation on the impact of the administration’s July 2 decision.

Billy House contributed