The news that the Obama administration will delay by one year a requirement that large employers either provide employees affordable insurance or pay a penalty came as a surprise to Obamacare's staunchest allies, and even to the people in government tasked with implementing other parts of the law.
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It's an undeniable fact that the so-called "employer mandate" is poorly designed and creating real challenges for businesses and workers alike. When critics of the law cite the delay as evidence of an implementation "train wreck," in other words, they're being tendentious, and thinking wishfully, but there's a kernel of truth to it.
But if the employer mandate snafu were as bad and as symptomatic as Republicans would have you believe, they'd treat it as vindication -- a cause for celebration. As we and others have reported, though, the employer mandate exists at the margins of the law's core functions. The decision to delay it for a year sidelines one liability that would have harmed the law's rollout, robs Republicans (temporarily, but during an election year) of a legitimate public critique of the law's real-life effects, and ironically strengthens the state-based insurance exchanges, which are the must-work components of the ACA.
Thus Republicans are torn between a feeling of satisfaction that the administration has effectively copped to the employer mandate's problems, and of frustration that a problematic provision won't be taking effect right away, before next year's midterm elections.