“The White House seems to slowly be admitting what Americans already know,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), calling once again for the measure “to be repealed and replaced.”
Administration officials cast the one-year delay, announced late Tuesday afternoon, as a sign of their responsiveness to the concerns of business leaders, who had complained that the employer mandate was costly and complicated. Other parts of the law, including tax credits for low- and middle-income Americans without employer-provided insurance and a ban on denying coverage for preexisting conditions, will go forward as planned, officials said.
“This decision won’t affect the ability of Americans to get access to affordable health-care coverage,” said White House spokesman Joshua Earnest. “What it will do is ensure that we have the time we need to implement a workable reporting system for the vast majority of companies that are already providing coverage to their employees and to companies that plan to offer new coverage.”
But with the move, the White House “sent the message that thing that is their central achievement is all messed up,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a conservative policy group. “The clear winners here are critics of the law. It continues to be unpopular on the ground, and this just fuels the intensity.”
Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced Wednesday that they plan to hold hearings on the administration’s decision, saying the delay was at odds with previous statements by officials that implementation of the law was on track.
Tim Phillips, president of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, said his group plans to incorporate postponement of the employer mandate into a major campaign already in the works.
“It gives another messaging opportunity, because now we can tell our fellow Americans unsure about the law, ‘If it’s so good, why do they keep delaying it?’ ” said Phillips, whose group played a pivotal role in attacking “Obamacare” in the 2010 midterm elections.
In giving companies until January 2015 to provide their employees insurance, “you’ve guaranteed that this is going to continue to be an election issue,” said Michael D. Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
Still, the delay could also spare President Obama and other Democrats from contending with another thorny political problem in the 2014 midterms: the prospect of companies reducing staffing in order to avoid the mandate, which affects businesses with 50 or more workers.