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Democrats caught off guard on employer mandate delay, now blame GOP

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2013

President Obama's decision to delay part of his health care law left fellow Democrats flat-footed, but they have since regrouped and are now blaming Republicans for the situation, saying the GOP poisoned the law so badly that the administration had no choice.

Rep. Jim McDermott told Republican members of a House panel on health they should spend less time trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and more time on good-faith reforms.

"I'm sure it's tempting for those who have stood against reform and progress from the beginning to see this as a chance to rip 'Obamacare' apart again, yet another time," the Washington Democrat said. "The irony of objecting to the delay of a program you've been trying to stop is, no doubt, lost on this room."

The White House announced last week that it would push back, to 2015, the Affordable Care Act's "employer mandate" requiring companies with 50 or more full-time workers to provide health insurance, or else pay fines.

Opponents of the law seized on the decision as proof it is fundamentally flawed. The delay provides a reprieve for "big business," but does nothing for everyday Americans who must acquire insurance under the "individual mandate," according to Republican leaders.

"This law is literally unraveling before our eyes," Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and former vice presidential nominee, said Wednesday.

While the delay is a setback for Mr. Obama, it also put his party colleagues in a tough position of having to defend the law even the president says needed changes, or else distance themselves from his signature achievement.

One Democrat criticized the president for caving. Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who was considered one of the architects of the law, caused a stir after he was quoted in The New York Times as saying, "How can they change the law?"

Mr. Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said there is precedent for the delay and that Republicans — not Democrats like Mr. Harkin — are the primary cause of the law's recent troubles.

"They don't want to see it implemented," he told reporters Wednesday. "They've made that clear."

Rep. John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat who opposed the law, said Wednesday he is working on bipartisan legislation that would repeal the employer mandate.

"One of the main reasons why I voted against this law in the first place was because too many job creators in my district simply can't afford the cost of the employer mandate under the Affordable Care Act," he said on the chamber floor.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have shown a willingness to tweak the law.

Sen. Joe Donnelly, Indiana Democrat, cosponsored a bill with Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, that would define a full-time worker as someone who works a traditional 40-hour work week, and not the 30-hour week the health care law prescribes.

Even more Democrats supported a nonbinding vote to scrap the law's tax on medical device manufacturers during the debate this year on the Senate's budget plan.

Legislative aides say House Republican leaders are planning to test Democrats' loyalty to the president's signature domestic achievement in a series of votes on Obamacare.

The first would force lawmakers to weigh in on Mr. Obama's decision to delay the employer mandate. A second vote would call on lawmakers to match that delay by putting off the individual mandate, which requires all Americans to obtain health insurance of some kind.

A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, accused Republicans of playing games instead of working on meaningful reforms.

"This is a complete smoke screen to hide the fact that House Republicans have no agenda and nothing to keep the House in session to consider," Drew Hammill said Wednesday. "With the American people waiting for action on jobs and the economy, here are House Republicans yet again playing games and wasting time on bills to nowhere."

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