Dems troubled by Obamacare’s politically toxic employer mandate

posted at 1:21 pm on July 7, 2014 by Noah Rothman

In a fanfare-free announcement on the Treasury Department’s Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy’s blog in February, the administration announced that the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that medium-sized businesses cover their employees’ health coverage or pay fines was delayed… again. The implementation of the employer mandate was previously delayed for businesses of all sizes until 2015, but the administration determined that this was still not enough time to allow for the majority of American firms to comply with the 2010 law. That latest delay pushed off the employer mandate for businesses with between 50 and 99 employees until 2016.

In June, National Journal’s Ron Fournier predicted that the White House would have no choice but to embrace the mandate – it is the “law of the land,” after all – and they should do it sooner rather than later. He noted that the mandate is a critical funding mechanism designed to help subsidize expanded insurance coverage, and that it would require an act of Congress in an election year to repeal it.

“They’ve already delayed the mandate twice,” Fournier wrote. “A third time would further diminish the credibility of the law and of the administration.”

But the political and technical problems the mandate presents for the party in power have long been a greater source of concern for liberals. In July of last year, Vox.com founder Ezra Klein praised the delay of the ACA’s employer mandate and recommended that it be repealed entirely. In April, former White House Press Sec. Robert Gibbs predicted that the mandate would be jettisoned entirely.

It seems that liberal advocates and activists are leaning more in that direction than in Fournier’s. On Monday, a Politico report detailed how liberals are giving up on the employer mandate.

“More and more liberal activists and policy experts who help shape Democratic thinking on health care have concluded that penalizing businesses if they don’t offer health insurance is an unnecessary element of the Affordable Care Act that may do more harm than good,” Politico reported.

The employer coverage rules were part of the ACA’s core philosophy that individuals, employers and the government should all contribute to paying health care costs. Some Democratic constituencies, including labor unions and Obamacare proponents like Families USA, still see it that way.

But the shift among liberal policy experts and advocates has been rapid. A stream of studies and statements have deemed the mandate only moderately useful for getting more people covered under Obamacare. And they too have come to see it as clumsy, a regulatory and financial burden that creates as many problems as it solves.

The objections Klein raised to the employer mandate in 2013 are similar to those being raised by liberal policy advocates:

- By imposing a tax on employers for hiring people from low- and moderate-income families who would qualify for subsidies in the new health insurance exchanges, it would discourage firms from hiring such individuals and would favor the hiring — for the same jobs — of people who don’t qualify for subsidies (primarily people from families at higher income levels).
- It would provide an incentive for employers to convert full-time workers (i.e., workers employed at least 30 hours per week) to part-time workers.
- It would place significant new administrative burdens and costs on employers.

Fully repealing the employer mandate would require an act of Congress; an unlikely prospect. The last two delays to the mandate were enacted when the administration requested that the IRS delay the implementation of penalties on noncompliant businesses. “Republicans won’t pass any legislation that makes the law work better,” Klein wrote. “Improving the law, they fear, will weaken the arguments for repeal.”

Moderate Republicans, meanwhile, say that the administration is to blame for the lack of legislative fixes to the ACA. “The White House is putting a lot of pressure on the Democratic leadership to not allow a vote on a significant change to Obamacare that would likely pass,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), one of the cosponsors of a bill to repeal the employer mandate, told Politico.

Fourier’s prediction was based on the assumption that the White House’s credibility was on the line if they refused to implement the employer mandate. It would seem, though, that the White House believes that their credibility would be more imperiled if the implementation of the mandate was a disaster or if they suffered a political rebuke in Congress when a major portion of the health care reform law is repealed in a bipartisan vote.

Though it is a cynical strategy, the White House is probably right.


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The God King will waive the mandate until December. Problem solved.

Rix on July 7, 2014 at 1:25 PM

It’s. The. Law.

If they don’t like it, repeal.

malclave on July 7, 2014 at 1:26 PM

They should be. Democrats passed it unanimously, then insulted, belittled and cowed everyone who opposed it into submission.

Nothing can change the facts. No matter what they do.

By the way: how many Democrats are pushing repeal? That’s what I thought. They don’t have any regrets. Just an election to face so they can embark on a few more years of destruction.

Marcus Traianus on July 7, 2014 at 1:26 PM

As long as unions and government workers are exempt everything will be fine.

acyl72 on July 7, 2014 at 1:26 PM

Yet, the Democrats are supposed to be unashamedly running on the virtues of the ACA this mid-term cycle….

Though it is a cynical strategy, the White House is probably right.

Any belief that this WH / Administration has even a modicum of credibility is little more than delusional….

Athos on July 7, 2014 at 1:27 PM

“A third time would further diminish the credibility of the law and of the administration.”

Is that possible?

mankai on July 7, 2014 at 1:29 PM

In June, National Journal’s Ron Fournier predicted that the White House would have no choice but to embrace the mandate – it is the “law of the land,” after all – and they should do it sooner rather than later. He noted that the mandate is a critical funding mechanism designed to help subsidize expanded insurance coverage, and that it would require an act of Congress in an election year to repeal it.

“Critical funding mechanism”? As if not going over budget was ever a concern of this White House? And here’s something that should surprise no one on here. Their base doesn’t give a damn about the cost of Obamacare either.

Doughboy on July 7, 2014 at 1:31 PM

Unlike the rest of us, who are troubled by his entire Presidency..

ToddPA on July 7, 2014 at 1:31 PM

The employer mandate is one of those rare occasions a Voxsplainer will be honest, but that is only because the employer mandate has the potential to destroy the Democratic Party as we know it. So Klein embraces the obvious truths that we all figured out back in 2009.

NotCoach on July 7, 2014 at 1:31 PM

In seem to remember somebody saying the Demos would be PROUD to run on it.

formwiz on July 7, 2014 at 1:31 PM

Rats… Shinking Ship… Dead Weight…

BigGator5 on July 7, 2014 at 1:32 PM

I suspect that the ‘best and brightest’ within the Administration are actively searching for a memory hole into which they can drop the employer mandate…

‘What employer mandate? The ACA never had one.’

Athos on July 7, 2014 at 1:32 PM

Republicans won’t pass any legislation that makes the law work better,” Klein wrote. “Improving the law, they fear, will weaken the arguments for repeal.”

So this unworkable, crap legislation is Republican’s fault even though they were allowed no input in drafting it, were not allowed to offer amendments and weren’t even given the opportunity to read it before being forced to vote on it?

tommyboy on July 7, 2014 at 1:33 PM

This is hilarious

Schadenfreude on July 7, 2014 at 1:34 PM

But these Obamacare posts are about whistling past the graveyard, by next Novemeber Democrats will be openly running on the ACA. Mark my words.

libfreeordie on December 20, 2013 at 10:14 AM

Schadenfreude on July 7, 2014 at 1:35 PM

Dems troubled by Obamacare’s politically toxic employer mandate

Eat it.

22044 on July 7, 2014 at 1:35 PM

Fourier’s prediction was based on the assumption that the White House’s credibility was on the line if they refused to implement the employer mandate. It would seem, though, that the White House believes that their credibility would be more imperiled if the implementation of the mandate was a disaster or if they suffered a political rebuke in Congress when a major portion of the health care reform law is repealed in a bipartisan vote.

Proof positive that zero and the Dems are finding out they can’t have their cake and eat it too…

Newtie and the Beauty on July 7, 2014 at 1:37 PM

House republicans need to pass a repeal of the employer mandated AND the individual mandate then let Harry Reid and the democrats defend the repeal for big business but not the rest of us.

jawkneemusic on July 7, 2014 at 1:38 PM

Lawlessness, it’s what’s for breakfast.

A law doesn’t work the way it’s written? Then just re-write it to suit yourself and your political objectives. It’s the Obama way.

Constitution? Oath of office? What are those? Just some stuff thought up by old dead white guys. They clearly don’t apply to His Chocolate Holiness Barack I, who is so much smarter and better than the rest of us.

AZCoyote on July 7, 2014 at 1:38 PM

They don’t care what we think or how we feel, the only thing they care about is getting reelected. That’s not what the Founding Fathers envisioned.
But who cares about those dead white dudes.

vityas on July 7, 2014 at 1:39 PM

I’ll follow W’s law bUT not my own

cmsinaz on July 7, 2014 at 1:39 PM

Palpable fear

Schadenfreude on July 7, 2014 at 1:42 PM

Not to worry. Boehner, McCain and McConnell will “reach across the aisle” and help save Dear Leader.
After all, it’s what allies and collaborators DO, yes

orangemtl on July 7, 2014 at 1:43 PM

“More and more liberal activists and policy experts who help shape Democratic thinking on health care have concluded that penalizing businesses if they don’t offer health insurance is an unnecessary element of the Affordable Care Act that may do more harm than good,” Politico reported.

It’s “unnecessary” because Democrats no longer need to keep up the fiction that Obamacare will pay for itself. They needed to lie about that when trying to pass it, but now they are comfortable relying on deficit spending to prop it up.

Of course, the GOP cannot call the Democrats on this fact because the GOP is also committed to deficit spending.

will77jeff on July 7, 2014 at 1:43 PM

Sometimes the relentless “inside baseball” orientation of this site is bizarre. Democrats are “troubled” by the mandate? They wish the President was more aware of “messaging” problems on immigration? Job losses are “concerning”. I wish those politicos had some idea of the devastating impact all their playing around has on the rest of us!

I suppose a huge tidal wave election would really put these issues into better focus for Democrat politicians but, sadly, all we have to vote for are Republicans so any tidal wave is going to be muted in effect, as GOP insiders start trying to bring nuance and “good government” to fixing the rotten mess instead of repealing Obamacare, ending the regulatory morass they’ve created and imprisoning the fascists, as I would prefer. Oh well.

MTF on July 7, 2014 at 1:45 PM

“They’ve already delayed the mandate twice,” Fournier wrote. “A third time would further diminish the credibility of the law and of the administration.”

There’s any credibility left?

rbj on July 7, 2014 at 1:49 PM

Poor puppies

Schadenfreude on July 7, 2014 at 1:50 PM

orangemtl on July 7, 2014 at 1:43 PM

The Obama Republicans…

The Vichy Republicans…

The Quisling Republicans…

All say the same thing about the current GOP Congressional Leadership.

Rather than stay out of the way when your opponent is making critical mistakes, these mental midgets prefer to ‘reach across the aisle’ to make those mistakes, their mistakes in some naive idea that today’s politics are fought via the Marquis of Queensbury rules.

Athos on July 7, 2014 at 1:52 PM

“They’ve already delayed the mandate twice,” Fournier wrote. “A third time would further diminish the credibility of the law and of the administration.”

There’s any credibility left?

rbj on July 7, 2014 at 1:49 PM

Nope. Not one iota.

hawkeye54 on July 7, 2014 at 1:52 PM

Dems, utterly lawless fascists?! Surprise!

russedav on July 7, 2014 at 1:57 PM

Of course no one in a position of power cares whether or not the PPACA actually works or not, if by working you mean delivering lower-cost useable health insurance to Americans who want it.

The PTB only care whether or not this bill delivers power and money to themselves and their cronies, benefactors and sycophants.

And since it has (or soon will, if not already) ripped an enormous amount of formerly discretionary income from working Americans and small employers, as well as relegating what were once private decisions to a soulless bureaucracy, I can see how our masters think the law simply requires a bit of tweaking and massaging to keep the proletariat from waking too soon from our Kardashian-drugged sleep.

Dolce Far Niente on July 7, 2014 at 1:58 PM

Duhhhhh

Schadenfreude on July 7, 2014 at 1:59 PM

Unlike the rest of us, who are troubled by his entire Presidency..

ToddPA on July 7, 2014 at 1:31 PM

.
Dittos + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

listens2glenn on July 7, 2014 at 2:01 PM

Fourier’s prediction was based on the assumption that the White House’s credibility was on the line if they refused to implement the employer mandate. It would seem, though, that the White House believes that their credibility would be more imperiled if the implementation of the mandate was a disaster or if they suffered a political rebuke in Congress when a major portion of the health care reform law is repealed in a bipartisan vote.

In order for Obama’s credibility to take a hit, the media would have to honestly report on things.

If after all the blatant lies Obama has told he has any credibility at all, it is only because the media protects him, call his lies “half-truths” or other nonsense, and refuses to report on the issues.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the GOP does little to nothing to attack Obama. Hell, both McCain and Romney were scarred to attack him, as is most of the current GOP leadership in the house and senate.

If the GOP attacked Obama with half the gusto it attacks conservatives, Obama’s “credibility” would already be gone amongst the LIVs. But, we can’t expect that to happen. After all, the GOP is fully owned subsidiary of the DNC.

Monkeytoe on July 7, 2014 at 2:01 PM

…delay…delay…delay…delay…delay…delay!

JugEarsButtHurt on July 7, 2014 at 2:11 PM

But the political and technical problems the mandate presents for the party in power have long been a greater source of concern for liberals. In July of last year, Vox.com

Can you please, in future posts, refer to that particular website by it’s true, complete, and more accurate name http://thesearenotthedroidsyourelookingfor.com/ ?

Thank you.

thirteen28 on July 7, 2014 at 2:17 PM

“Republicans won’t pass any legislation that makes the law work better,” Klein wrote. “Improving the law, they fear, will weaken the arguments for repeal.”

I’m sure there’s at least a few Republicans who think turd polish actually improves the product.

RadClown on July 7, 2014 at 2:20 PM

Fourier’s prediction was based on the assumption that the White House’s credibility was on the line if they refused to implement the employer mandate.

This administration has NO credibility.

GarandFan on July 7, 2014 at 2:24 PM

Fully repealing the employer mandate would require an act of Congress; an unlikely prospect

Noah Rothman completely lost me with this very lame sentence!

The Obama administration cannot go to Congress on Obamacare, because it will be disassembled. For good reason, IT WILL NOT WORK AS WRITTEN!

The Employer Mandate is a NUCLEAR EXPLOSION waiting to happen. Instead of tens of million people being thrown off their current plan, there will be 100′s of millions of people who will have to go into the Obamacare markets and pay more money for worse coverage. At that point, it will be impossible to forget the if-you-like-your-plan/doctor Big Lie.

Catch-22 – Obamacare cannot exist as written without the employer mandate. But launching the employer mandate will cause the collapse of Obamacare.

What’s a Democrat politican to do?

pilsener on July 7, 2014 at 2:25 PM

This is what the critics of Obama-Democrat Care said would happen and they were right…again.

520,000+/- full time jobs lost in June 2014, 800,000+/- part time jobs gained. Over a half a million more people not insured in just one month. Thanks Obama, Reid, Nanzi heckuva a job.

jukin3 on July 7, 2014 at 2:47 PM

Fully repealing the employer mandate would require an act of Congress; an unlikely prospect

Noah Rothman completely lost me with this very lame sentence!

Fully repealing the employer mandate will not happen in THIS Congress, with Harry Reid holding the gavel.

If Republicans get a Senate majority in November, then both houses of Congress can vote to repeal not only the employer mandate, but the rest of Obamacare as well.

Obama could still veto such a repeal vote, but that would put the blame for the whole health-care mess squarely on Obama. If Obama stubbornly clings to the Obamacare law despite a Congressional vote to repeal it, that would hurt the chances of Democrat candidates for President in 2016.

Steve Z on July 7, 2014 at 2:59 PM

Can’t repeal mandate.
Nonseverability.
Would repeal it all.

Not that I have any problem with that!

Remember, waaaaay back in 2009, when the Democrats made a big deal about nonseverability, and that if one part of Obamacare was repealed, it would all be repealed? They really liked that part, because it was supposed to stick the Republicans with a hugh White Elephant that they could not do anything with, which would crush them at the polls.

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, I suppose…

Of course, the actual law means nothing. The nonseverability clause can surely be ignored, just as any other aspect of this law is routinely ignored. We are in a post-legal regime, here.

Haiku Guy on July 7, 2014 at 3:24 PM

hugh = huge

I forgot I wasn’t at FR…

Haiku Guy on July 7, 2014 at 3:26 PM

So, the employer mandate is off, but the personal mandate is still on? That looks very actionable, an equal protection issue.

Surellin on July 7, 2014 at 4:17 PM

If the GOP attacked Obama with half the gusto it attacks conservatives, Obama’s “credibility” would already be gone amongst the LIVs. But, we can’t expect that to happen. After all, the GOP is fully owned subsidiary of the DNC.

Monkeytoe on July 7, 2014 at 2:01 PM

You do not think they have attacked him enough? You don’t think the 24/7 constant attacks by the most watched cable station FNC is good enough? What other attacks would you recommend?

farleftprogressive on July 7, 2014 at 4:28 PM

What other attacks would you recommend?

farleftprogressive on July 7, 2014 at 4:28 PM

I’m looking forward to the day when even the far left progressives are smart enough to figure out they should be attacking him.

Closet Optimist on July 7, 2014 at 5:23 PM

In June, National Journal’s Ron Fournier predicted that the White House would have no choice but to embrace the mandate – it is the “law of the land,” after all

Riiiiiiiiight… Anyone who believes that the White House cares about following the law, hasn’t been paying attention.

“They’ve already delayed the mandate twice,” Fournier wrote. “A third time would further diminish the credibility of the law and of the administration.”

The White House has no credibility.

The Republicans should loudly proclaim that they will follow the law, including fining businesses retroactively, no matter what how Obama promises he won’t follow the law. The law WILL BE FOLLOWED, and the dates are in the law. Follow this up with another bill to repeal the law. Use this to put pressure on the President to either follow the law, or repeal it.

Businesses will follow the mandate no matter what the President states increasing the heat on Democrats for the elections with the intent of repealing Obamacare.

I know the inherent risk in this action, but now is not the time to be cowards. (Boehner, I’m looking at you.)

dominigan on July 7, 2014 at 7:10 PM