The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion No minor stratch for Obamacare

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Democrats are greeting news of the employer-mandate delay a bit like the Black Knight (“just a flesh wound“). But, not unlike Monty Python’s dismembered knight, Obamacare has gotten pretty hacked up.

The Hill provides a useful list of 10 changes, deletions and complications that have already been required, including elimination of the CLASS Act; deletion of the burdensome 1099 requirement; failure to set up the small-business exchanges; many states’ refusal to set up exchanges; and coverage for congressional staffers.

But that’s not all. Chief Justice John Roberts essentially rewrote the Medicaid provision, now allowing states to opt out. The Senate, although symbolically, got 79 votes to repeal the onerous medical device tax. And then there is the inability to staff up the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

Moreover, the promise to keep your own health care is now a laugh line while individual insurance rates have soared. Oh, and let’s not forget the family health-care dilemma.

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Not much is working as planned. There is also, notwithstanding today’s job numbers, evidence that Obamacare has suppressed job growth. In addition to the spurt in part-time employment (which is excluded from Obamacare’s reach), a recent poll shows that 59 percent of small businesses have frozen or curtailed hiring. And merely delaying the implementation of the employer mandate isn’t much consolation for employers who don’t want to hire and fire employees based on the administration’s inability to operate its own legislation. (The huge surge in part time employment and the 1/2 point increase in underemployment suggests Obamacare is continuing to drag down hiring.)

From a political standpoint, Obamacare didn’t work out, either. The law remains very unpopular, and Dems in red states are struggling to figure out how to defend the monstrosity in the 2014 election.

Both sides know it, and Republicans are turning up the heat, as House leadership put out a statement calling for a “permanent delay” in implementing the law. (“The Administration has been busy granting waivers, delays, and special carve outs from the burdens of ObamaCare to special interests and those with Washington lobbyists, but the American people keep getting left behind. The President owes the American people an answer: why does he think businesses deserve a one year delay from the mandates in ObamaCare, but middle class families and hardworking Americans don’t?”) This has turned into a gift-wrapped populist issue for  Republicans.

Obamacare also has turned into a repeat of President Obama’s credibility disaster in the sequester fight. He said horrid things would happen if the cuts weren’t stopped; no calamity ensued. On Obamacare, he said everything was just swell; it’s not.

It will be quite a strain for Democrats to pretend all of this is just a flesh wound. As a practical matter (e.g. state exchanges not ready) and as a political matter (e.g. exempting big employers from the mandate while still forcing individuals to buy insurance), it becomes harder to sustain the illusion that everything is going swimmingly. The employer mandate is the most glaring and humiliating stumble for the administration, but it is hardly an isolated one. The pressure to delay the whole kit and caboodle of regulations will build. The question is whether the Dems will voluntarily do it or be forced by circumstances and/or voters to do so.