House Republicans Pass Dead-End Bill To Delay Obamacare Individual Mandate

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House Republicans passed legislation Wednesday to delay the Obamacare individual mandate for one year — the chamber’s 38th attempt to repeal or dismantle the law.

The proposal is set to die in the Senate (and would face a certain veto by the President). It was a response to the Obama administration’s one-year delay in implementing the employer mandate for businesses with 50 or more workers.

The House held two back-to-back votes. One was to endorse the White House’s employer mandate delay — that passed 264-161. The second was to also delay by one year the individual mandate for most Americans to buy insurance — that passed 251-174.Democratic leaders said the bill to delay the employer mandate bill was unnecessary and opposed a delay of the individual mandate. Twenty-two Democrats joined 229 Republicans in favor of the bill to postpone the requirement that all Americans buy insurance.

The legislation was designed as a partisan messaging device in service of the GOP’s ongoing quest to attack and undermine the health care reform law. Hatched by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), it was a clever gambit buttressed by a populist message: If large employers get a one-year reprieve, why shouldn’t ordinary Americans?

“This is about basic fairness,” Boehner told reporters Wednesday.

The employer mandate is relatively inconsequential to the functioning of the law, and Treasury determined that the complex reporting requirements make it difficult to effectively implement in 2014. The individual mandate, by contrast, is a centerpiece of the law that health economists believe is vital to the success of its key provision to guarantee coverage for Americans who are sick or have preexisting conditions.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the GOP’s mandate delay bills “nothing more than a waste of time.” The debate over the health care law, she said, “has been settled in Congress, at the Supreme Court, and at the ballot box. Still yet Republicans want to vote for the 38th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”

The vote comes on the heels of both good and bad news for Obamacare. The good news, which Democrats are touting, is that insurance premiums on the individual market in New York state are projected to fall by about 50 percent next year, thanks to Obamacare. The bad news, along with the unflattering optics of the employer mandate delay, is that a handful of labor unions are aggrieved with parts of the law they say would harm workers and have aggressively criticized Democratic leaders for ignoring their concerns.

Notably, conservative activists, after expressing some skepticism early on, mostly made their peace with Boehner’s gambit. That was a change from earlier this year when they scuttled GOP leadership’s attempt to alter Obamacare. Activists coming around made wary conservative House members — who insist that the only acceptable GOP stance to Obamacare is full repeal — more comfortable with supporting Boehner’s bills.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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