September 27, 2013 8:09AM

Delaying the Individual Mandate Will Delay Political Backlash until after the Election

Republican Senators Ted Cruz (TX) and Mike Lee (UT) and a few others have proposed that all Obamacare funding be cut off by a legislative “rider,” ostensibly forbidding funding of the 2010 law. They argued that public opinion polls trump mere laws enacted by Congress and vetted by the Supreme Court–an idea that sounds more like populism than conservatism.

Even if such “defunding” could have magically attracted the 67 Senate votes needed to override a veto, it would not have undone the mandate to buy insurance, premium subsidies through refundable tax credits, planned cuts in payments to Medicare providers, or any of Obamacare’s numerous new 2013 taxes–including the extra 0.9 percent payroll tax and 3.8 percent surtax on investment income for couples earning more than $250,000. Rhetorical opposition to “funding” did not even include opposing Obamacare taxes.

The Senate Conservative Fund’s “dontfundobamacare” website, which features photos of Cruz and Lee, exhorted: “Tell the Republicans to OPPOSE cloture to stop Harry Reid’s plan to fund Obamacare. Tell them a vote for cloture is a vote to fund Obamacare!” Nine senators who the SCF websites claims opposed cloture nevertheless voted for cloture on September 25. 

“Mr. Cruz’s ‘yes’ vote … confused conservative activists who had mobilized to stand with him against any procedural step forward,” reports the New York Times. Politically innocent people are often easily confused because they fail to notice that “funds” is the key word in all political action funds. As a fundraiser, this theatrical show was great television. And groups that raise funds for political campaigns don’t offer refunds.

With the cloture vote demonstrating the questionable sincerity and unquestionable futility of the mobilization to “defund Obamacare,” efforts were instantly diverted to a Plan B to delay the individual mandate in a continuing resolution that funds the government. Plan B would allow favored groups to enjoy new refundable tax credits and Medicaid entitlements for a year or two before less‐​favored citizens face fines (starting at 1 percent of marginal income) to help pay for Obamacare’s redistribution of health

Ironically, this Republican plan to delay any such unpleasant aspects of Obamacare would be especially helpful to Democrats, who would then face fewer irate voters in the 2014 election. Being fully aware of this, however the Obama administration has largely preempted Republicans by seizing another opportunity to postpone unpopular features of Obamacare through delay or exemptions. As of September 5, “The IRS has delayed compliance with the proposed regulations for one year under Notice 2013–45, 2013–31 I.R.B. 116. The reporting requirements are now effective for tax years beginning in 2015, with the first report due in 2016 for 2015 coverage.”

Subsidies, tax credits, and Medicaid handouts still begin on January 1, 2014. But the individual mandate cannot be enforced until tax returns are filed on April 15, 2016–with or without the Republicans Plan B–because insurers and employers no longer have to provide coverage information for 2014. The effective delay of mandate enforcement tilts the electoral balance toward those receiving taxpayer‐​subsidized benefits in 2014 as opposed to those who will face the burden of buying costly insurance in 2015 or paying fines in 2016. The de facto delay of the individual mandate, thanks to an IRS decree, will keep voters largely unaware of Obamacare’s full burden in 2014, making subsidies appear temporarily less costly than they are.

Such delay in the individual mandate and fines is great news for Democrats facing reelection in 2014. So why do Republicans imagine this is their clever idea?