ObamaCare delay undermines entire White House agenda
posted at 1:01 pm on July 5, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
The White House wants to spin the delay in enforcing the employer mandate of ObamaCare as evidence that they’re listening to Americans and the business sector and attempting to be flexible on implementation. Rich Lowry isn’t buying it. In an essay yesterday for Politico, Lowry explains that the delay comes from the incompetence of the White House more than three years after pushing an unworkable bill through Congress, combined with its clear intention to manipulate the law for its own political benefit:
The administration can call it whatever it wants, but there is no hiding the embarrassment of a climbdown on a high-profile feature of President Barack Obama’s signature initiative — although the administration seemed determined to do all it could to hide it. If Bloomberg hadn’t broken the news on Tuesday, the administration was apparently planning to announce it on July 3 — only because the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve were too far off.
The reason for the delay, we’re told, is incompetence. The administration’s story is that it simply couldn’t find a way to implement the insurance reporting requirements on employers within the time frame set out in the law. In this telling, the mandate was merely collateral damage — it had to be put off, along with the accompanying $2,000-per-employee fine on firms with more than 50 employees who don’t offer health coverage.
This just happens to be the mandate that is causing howls of pain from businesses and creating perverse incentives for them to limit their hiring or to hire part- rather than full-time employees. And it just happens that 2015 — the new target year for implementation — is after a midterm election year rather during one. It must all be a lucky break. …
Obamacare was sold on two flagrantly false promises: that you could keep the insurance you have and that prices for insurance would drop. But employers will dump significant numbers of employees onto the exchanges to save on their own health-care costs. And the latest indication of the law’s price shock came via The Wall Street Journal this week, which reported, “healthy consumers could see insurance rates double or even triple when they look for individual coverage.”
That demonstrates the underlying incompetence of the ObamaCare project, from start to finish. It promises something that it not only couldn’t deliver, but made all but impossible from its very existence. On top of that, it created a huge top-down bureaucracy that makes everything more costly for all participants in the system — government, providers, insurers, employers, and consumers. That also increased the likelihood of incompetence, capriciousness, and failure, which is a large part of the reason that the employer mandate had to be delayed … the other part being the approaching 2014 midterm election cycle, of course.
This creates a bigger headache for Obama and his administration than merely the Affordable Care Act rollout, though. They face two big policy debates in the coming months — immigration reform in the House, and the budget and debt ceiling in both chambers of Congress. By declaring the right to arbitrarily ignore statutory law and defy Congress in this matter, just how is Congress supposed to negotiate with the administration on anything else? Allahpundit blogged about the impact on border-security statutes earlier this week, but Conn Carroll and Mickey Kaus point out another component in the comprehensive bill that might be even more vulnerable to Obama administration capriciousness:
Here is the sound bite I would deliver today if anybody wanted a sound bite from me, which they don’t:
Don’t you think he’ll also decide to suspend the Senate Gang of 8′s mandate that employers use “E-Verify” (to screen new employees for legal status) when he receives similar business complaints?
That’s especially true since, while some Democrats defend the employer mandate, neither liberals nor libertarians nor Latino groups like E-Verify. And the E-Verify “mandate” in the Gang of 8 bill is worded suspiciously loosely. Obama might not have to break the law to simply declare the mandate satisfied (and allow legalized illegals to go ahead and get their green cards).
What does that say for administration promises to sustain reductions in spending? To work on paying down the national debt? Neither of those get put into statutory law, and if the Obama administration thinks it can ignore statute, then budgetary promises are worth less than nothing at all.
In my column for The Fiscal Times, I recall the hysterics on the Left that decried the supposedly “imperial Presidency” of George W. Bush, and argue that the real thing has arrived:
Waiving one mandate without the other not only offends the rule of law, it completely disrupts the delicate fiscal scheme that Congress created to keep costs in line. Democrats used to complain about the “imperial Presidency” of George W. Bush when he acted completely within his constitutional authority. This demonstration is a much clearer example of an administration that manipulates law for its own political purposes, even laws demanded by President Obama himself.
Furthermore, the problem of an imperial Presidency doesn’t end with Obamacare. The White House has pushed the House to consider a comprehensive immigration-reform bill passed by the Senate last week, arguing in part that the bill provides for more border security than ever contemplated by any previous Congresses or administrations. A late amendment even transferred those border-security and visa-reform metrics from regulations to statutory requirements. Given how this White House treated the statutes created by the ACA it championed, why exactly should House Republicans put any trust in this administration to enforce the border-control statutes created by the Senate in its bill?
A recent Fox poll shows that distrust of the federal government has jumped nine points since last October, and now ties the peak seen in July 2011. Unlike the administration’s blatant attempt to escape the political consequences of its terrible health-care market reform, those results are neither capricious nor irrational.
The real damage in this move has been done to the big-government project. In order to argue that bigger government works, it has to prove itself competent and accountable. This demonstration shows that it’s neither.
That’s not the only damage, either, as McClatchy reports. This will jack up ObamaCare costs by at least $10 billion, and possibly much more:
Tuesday’s delay will be costly.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the federal government will lose $10 billion in employer penalties in 2015 because of the delayed enforcement. Likewise, many expect that federal outlays to help low- and moderate-income people purchase coverage will grow with employers no longer required to provide coverage next year.
“At a minimum, the federal revenue from fines is gone. More realistically, the costs of already bloated insurance subsidies will escalate and the red ink will rise,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. …
“The regulations were quite complicated and it certainly was difficult to calculate the number of full-time employees and how employers were going to be penalized, but I don’t see that as the real reason. I see this as just caving in to a demand from industry,” Feldman said of the move. “I think the computer problems are just a way to explain it. The real reason is you got strong pushback.”
The result, Feldman predicted, will be fewer employers offering coverage, more federal funding to help people get coverage through the exchanges, and more people without coverage. “This is counterproductive,” Feldman said.
Big Government — more capricious, more unaccountable, more incompetent, and more costly.