Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 27, 2014

House GOP Mulls Response to Health Mandate Punt

UPDATED: 5:20 p.m. | The Obama administration’s stunning punt on the employer mandate in the health care law will be a major focus of House Republicans when they return next week.

Republicans believe the decision gives them a chance to go on offense.

“It’s obvious they did this while the president was in the air in the middle of a holiday week to minimize the coverage of this breathtakingly significant development,” said one senior Republican leadership aide of the timing of the announcement. “It builds momentum and support for repealing the entire law [and] I’m sure that the impact … will be a huge topic next week.”

But Republicans will have to pick a strategy. Leaders have to decide whether to try and capitalize by advancing a bill repealing the mandate. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., has proposed a bill that would repeal just the employer mandate, which could gather steam after lack of action since its late February introduction.

Lawmakers also are busy launching investigations into the decision and its legality.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., is launching a formal investigation into what he characterized as an “abrupt” decision to delay implementation of the employer mandate. He is requesting documents from Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that shed light on how and why this decision was made.

“Despite delays and missed deadlines, administration officials had repeatedly testified before Congress that they were still on schedule to implement the law. Yesterday, they admitted that wasn’t the case, and it’s clear we have no idea the full scope of delays and disarray that may be coming. The American public deserves answers,” said Upton in a statement.

Upton has given Lew and Sebelius a July 17 deadline to turn in “information regarding the individuals, companies and organizations the administration was consulting with regarding the employer mandate and other provisions that may be delayed or modified.” The committee’s press release also indicated that the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will “examine the administration’s delay of the employer mandate in the coming weeks.”

Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., also have questioned whether the White House even has the authority to delay implementation of the employer-offered insurance mandate without congressional consent.

And Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., wants Sebelius to come back and testify before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, of which he is the chairman.

“When Secretary Sebelius was before my Health Subcommittee, she insisted everything would start on time. I wonder how many other surprises we are in for before the end of the year? She should come back to the committee and be open and honest with us about how the implementation of law is going,” Pitts said in a statement Wednesday.

Republicans have already passed a full repeal of the law, and GOP leaders indicated they would continue that push.

“It’s time to put people first, repeal this entire law, and start over with patient-centered reforms that protect families, improve our health care system, and restore personal freedom,” said Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. “House Republicans will continue to fight towards this end, on behalf of each individual citizen of this great land. It’s time for a permanent delay of ObamaCare.”

Amanda Austin, director of federal policy for the National Federation of Independent Business that opposes the health law, said that above all else, Congress must be realistic in how it chooses to respond.

“[The House has] had a number of votes on full repeal and obviously the Senate has gone nowhere with it,” Austin told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday morning. “Like business owners, we need to be practical about what we can get done. We are inching closer and closer to more of this law going into place.”

Austin said NFIB’s big focus right now is urging lawmakers to act on a bill introduced in the Senate by Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., that would define a full-time employee as one who works 40 hours a week; the new health law defines a full-time employee as one who works at least 30 hours. The bipartisan support of the legislation could be significant, she said. It might possibly be something that could pass in the Senate and get considered in the House.

But one House Democratic aide said he didn’t expect Republicans to be able to do much more than message on the most recent delay.

“They are absolutely desperate to do anything to undermine this law, whether it’s discouraging people, whether it’s holding more hearings, everything short of ripping an enrollment form out of someone’s hand,” the aide said.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, sought to put the best spin they could on the announcement, which came more than three years after the enactment of the law.

“With this announcement, the Administration has demonstrated its commitment to implement the Affordable Care Act with increased flexibility for the four percent of America’s businesses impacted by the employer responsibility requirement,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement Wednesday that fell in line with much of the rhetoric used so far by the White House and high-ranking Democratic officials.

  • TomB19

    Are these Republicans insane? We need jobs and a budget… not more on-fighting.

    • vikings55

      The answer to your question is Yes. Atleast the small faction tat has hijacked the party. I can’t believe that the conventional wisdom taking over is to abandon minority outreach and double down on the white vote to attempt 64%. Insane is the appropriate term.

  • vikings55

    Living in the past, grasping at any shiny object that comes their way. Pretty much abandoning their minority outreach. When are they going to realize that to win
    1) they need more supporters. There just isn’t enough people supporting their plans or lack of plans. If they don’t expand their tent- they are finished. A new conventional wisdom is taking hold that they alls they need to do is get 64% of the white vote. Any one who is relying on this happening is on drugs. They couldn’t get 60% with a President with 8% unemployment and he’s Black. If didn’t happen then- it ain’t happening. Especially when you consider that the white vote is reducing 2% every cycle. It’s suicide.
    2) They need an agenda that the people support. They are on the wrong side of almost every poll on almost every issue. That takes real effort to be against the Majority of americans almost all the time. They need to give a reason to vote for. they are still playing the “we aren’t them” card. Won’t work. Repeal Obamacare might have more oomph, if they laid out a bill. But no– they don’t have one because they are leaderless and directionless and have no idea. They have been taken over by militants.

  • Carl Goss

    GOP tempest in a teapot. That won’t stop them from having some hearings about the ACA and attacking it as the worst thing that has ever happened in the US. The GOP is made up of jerks and they are concentrated in the House of Representatives.

  • spbigger

    Why would they have to mull it over? They need to do what represents interest of the citizens. With only a few exceptions, they are a bunch of self-serving bums !

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