Obama to Congress: Only I Can Amend ObamaCare

Today the House of Representatives will vote on two bills. One would codify President Obama’s unlawful one-year repeal of the employer mandate and the related reporting requirements. The second would do the same for the individual mandate, effectively delaying its start date until 2015 as well.

I was initially skeptical that these votes would do much to build support for reopening, delaying, or repealing ObamaCare. I wrote last week that they seemed designed mainly to help partisan Republicans build their House majority by “embarrass[ing] House Democrats by forcing them either to support relief for employers but not families or to break ranks with their president on Obamacare.” Two things have changed my mind.

First, if these bills were to pass, it appears the insurance industry would join the coalition demanding that Congress delay ObamaCare. The industry appears very afraid of delaying the individual mandate. An item in today’s Politico Pulse titled, “Would Mandate Delay Mess With Exchanges?” explains:

[A]n insurance industry official makes the case that delay of the individual mandate…would also mean delay of exchanges since all of the 2014 premiums were filed assuming the mandate would be in place. “If the mandate is delayed, the rates will need to be modified to reflect the likely impact on the risk pool,” the official said. “There is not enough time for plans to re-configure their bids, submit them to regulators for approval, and have those new bids reviewed and approved by the time open enrollment begins on October 1.”

Second, these votes have forced President Obama into an untenable position. Yesterday, he threatened to veto both bills. Think about that. President Obama has threatened to veto a bill that would codify his own policy of repealing the employer mandate for one year. He supports rewriting federal law – but only if he does it. Not if Congress does it.

I’d wager lots of congressional Democrats are pretty angry at President Obama today.

The individual mandate is ObamaCare’s least popular provision. Just 34 percent of Americans support it. Only 12 percent support letting it take effect while employers get a pass. When he unilaterally delayed the employer mandate, President Obama put House Democrats, and potentially Senate Democrats, in the position of having to cast their most unpopular pro-ObamaCare vote, ever. The attack ads practically write themselves. ”Congressman X voted against giving families the same breaks as big business.

On top of that, Obama’s threat to veto the bill codifying the employer-mandate delay marginalizes all of Congress, Democrats included. It also puts Democrats in an impossible situation. If Democrats vote against the president on the employer mandate – by voting for the bill codifying his policy (are you confused yet?) – then they are breaking ranks with their party’s leader. If they vote with the president – by voting against the bill codifying the president’s policy – they would be participating in their own marginalization.

All told, these votes appear to maximize the likelihood of exposing fissures among ObamaCare supporters. Maybe they will do more to wear down the opposition to reopening ObamaCare than I thought.

UPDATE: This post originally claimed that only 17 percent of Americans support the individual mandate. The actual figure in the poll cited was 34 percent, split evenly between “very favorable” and “somewhat favorable.” I regret the error, and thank Robert Dible for catching it.