- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Nearly 30 House Democrats ignored a veto threat by President Obama and helped the GOP majority pass a bill Wednesday that would let people ignore this year’s Obamacare penalty for not having health insurance.

The chamber voted 250-160 in favor of the Simple Fairness Act, which effectively nullifies the health-care law’s “individual mandate” until 2015, in response to Mr. Obama’s moves to delay other parts of the overhaul during an election year.

“He’s not leveled the playing field for the millions of individuals and families who are forced to comply with the individual mandate tax,” said the bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas.

The bill’s passage could put pressure on Senate Democrats to take up the measure — several are in tough re-election bids and the mandate is an unpopular facet of Mr. Obama’s law — but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has let other anti-Obamacare bills die on the legislative vine.

Sens. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, and Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, introduced a bill in November that would delay the individual mandate until January 2015, but it has gone nowhere.

In the House, 27 Democrats voted to delay the mandate.

House Democrats who voted against the measure said the GOP was wasting its time by trying to gut the health-care law once again.

“Don’t we have anything else to do?” said Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who is retiring.

The individual mandate is a key lever in the administration’s hopes to have Obamacare’s economics work. By requiring almost all Americans to get covered if they can afford it, healthy enrollees will keep premiums in check when people with pre-existing medical conditions enter the market because insurers can no longer reject them.

Under the law, a single adult who flouts the mandate in 2014 must pay $95 or 1 percent of his income above the filing threshold, whichever is higher. The baseline penalty climbs in 2015 to $325 or 2 percent of adjusted income. In 2016, it will be $695 or 2.5 percent.

Although pundits say the $95 baseline is relatively weak, high-earners who violate the mandate will pay substantially more, tax analysts warn.

The penalty is among a series of taxes and fees designed to pay for the reforms, including government-subsidized plans on the health care exchanges and the state-by-state expansion of Medicaid.

Republicans have said the administration is being hypocritical by repeatedly ordering changes and delays to the law in an election year, only to thwart GOP-sponsored attempts to amend the law legislatively.

For example on Wednesday, the administration is expected to extend by two years a policy it announced last fall to let people keep health plans that do not comply with Obamacare. The extension, according to the Associated Press, would be valid for policies issued up to Oct. 1, 2016.

“If the bill’s supporters are so worried about voters seeing what the law is about in its implementation, what about the families that aren’t getting the favored treatment? That’s what we’re about,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

The White House said this week it “strongly opposes” the House bill and that Mr. Obama would veto it.

The administration says the health-care law has recovered from its early stumbles, and that more than 4 million people have signed up for private coverage on state-based health exchanges ahead of the March 31 deadline.

Delaying the mandate would “increase the number of uninsured, and shift costs to businesses, workers, and health care providers,” the White House said Tuesday in a statement of administrative policy on the bill.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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