July 3, 2013

Last night, the Obama administration announced that it would delay the “employer mandate” provision of the Affordable Care Act, which requires businesses of 50 employees or more to provide health insurance or face a penalty. The reason for the delay, as Sarah Kliff reports for The Post, is that the administration has heard “significant concerns from employers about the challenges of implementing it.”

Eric Cantor
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

As far as policy is concerned, this isn’t a huge blow to the ACA. “The employer mandate is both weaker and less important than most people realize,” writes Jonathan Cohn for the New Republic. “For the most part, the experts say, employers will decide whether to offer coverage based largely on whether they think it helps retains employees.” It also lowers the deficit by a small amount, though many economists believe it’s harmful to the broader economy. Indeed, there’s a case for repealing the employer mandate altogether, given how little it matters to the full scheme of the law.

But such an administrative reform is only possible in a settled political environment, where both sides accept the reality of the Affordable Care Act. As it stands, the Republican Party is still committed to repealing every portion of Obamacare, regardless of the costs. Indeed, after news of the delay broke, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor responded on Twitter with a simple declaration. “Rather than simply delaying the pain, we should go ahead and scrap this entire law before any more damage is done.”

Of course, the odds of a full rollback are slim. For it to happen, Republicans would have to win the White House and overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. The earliest this could happen is 2017, and even then, they would have to deal with the existence of an Obamacare constituency — the millions of Americans who get direct benefits as a result of the law. Repeal is a great slogan, but it’s not a feasible approach.

Republicans don’t care, and that indifference guarantees that — when the administration hits roadblocks in implementing the Affordable Care Act — it will have no choice but to power through them, even when legislation is a better option. The GOP wants Obamacare to fail, and it’s doing all it can to ensure that outcome.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.