The term “Obamacare” was initially used as political shorthand, a useful tool that stopped you from having to call it the Affordable Care Act, since it was actually going to raise the cost of care. But over time the nickname has become more and more true as the law becomes less and less like the law passed by Congress and signed by the president.
This week President Obama announced yet another unilateral change to the law, this time a delay to the employer mandate. Under the change, the Obama Administration will exempt businesses with 50 to 99 employees from having to abide by the so-called “employer mandate,” which required companies to offer insurance coverage or pay a penalty to the federal government. Large employers—those with 100 or more workers—also got a reprieve. They now only have to offer coverage to 70 percent of their employees to be in compliance with the law and avoid federal penalties.
To be fair, Obamacare is a crushing burden for many employers. Consider a low-margin business like an independent grocery store with 50 employees. The first 30 workers are exempt from the mandate, but if the store couldn’t afford to provide health insurance, the remaining 20 could lead to as much as $60,000 in fines. For many businesses, especially in this prolonged economic downturn, $60,000 isn’t the difference between a good year and a bad year, it’s the difference between staying open or shutting down.
But that was the law as it was passed. It was bad policy, sure, but the Obama Administration isn’t delaying the mandate for policy reasons. No, these changes were clear political moves – a bald faced attempt to shield vulnerable Senate Democrats from bad-politics of raising costs for businesses in an election year. The blatant politics is a tough pill to swallow from many previous believers. Ron Fournier writes for National Journal:
It’s getting difficult and slinking toward impossible to defend the Affordable Care Act. The latest blow to Democratic candidates, liberal activists, and naïve columnists like me came Monday from the White House, which announced yet another delay in the Obamacare implementation.
Not coincidentally, the delays punt implementation beyond congressional elections in November, which raises the first problem with defending Obamacare: The White House has politicized its signature policy.
The win-at-all-cost mentality helped create a culture in which a partisan-line vote was deemed sufficient for passing transcendent legislation. It spurred advisers to develop a dishonest talking point—“If you like your health plan, you’ll be able to keep your health plan.” And political expediency led Obama to repeat the line, over and over and over again, when he knew, or should have known, it was false.
Will this ultimately be worth it? Will the good politics outweigh the bad press? Maybe, especially if the change works to delay businesses’ inevitable decision to layoff workers or move them from full-time to part-time to avoid the mandate. But it also puts Democrats in a terrible spot.
“In politics, one of the worst things you can do is to deny the obvious and defend the indefensible,” writes Washington Post Ed Rogers. “Well, the president is putting the Democratic party in the unenviable position of trying to do exactly that.”
One of the most indefensible issues is that the Obama Administration continues to delay the employer mandate, but has done nothing to alleviate the economic pain of the individual mandate.
“The White House seems to have a new exemption from its failed law for a different group each month,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It’s time to extend that exemption to families and individuals – not just businesses.”
We’d actually go one step further. It’s time to get rid of Obamacare altogether and replace it with a policy that works.