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February 14, 2016

Manchin Doubts Obama Would Veto Bipartisan Delay of Individual Mandate (Updated)

Sen. Joe Manchin (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 8:57 p.m. | Sen. Joe Manchin III said Wednesday that he couldn’t “imagine” President Barack Obama would veto a yearlong delay of the individual mandate that the West Virginia Democrat is working to draft.

In a preliminary move that could jam his own politically vulnerable colleagues, Manchin’s working on a bill to delay the individual mandate under Obamacare by a year, his office confirmed earlier Wednesday.

“I think basically there’s enough movement that this could really be a bipartisan movement to fix it,” Manchin said during an appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s program on Fox News, specifying that he wouldn’t back efforts that would try to kill the law.

Manchin told O’Reilly he did not foresee a veto of a delay bill “if we’re trying to work together to improve it, to identify the problems that need to be corrected — and those that can’t be fixed you ought to get rid of, but we’ve got to get through that process.”

“The easiest vote I can make up here Bill is a no vote. I can vote no against everything and be fine. It’d be the happy retirement home, but I came here to fix things,” Manchin said. “This bill has a lot of good things that’s helped a lot of people in West Virginia. It has a lot of challenges. Affordable health care was never meant to be — if you’ve got insurance, now you’re going to have to buy insurance that’s more costly and not as good. That has to be fixed.”

Republican Marco Rubio of Florida is working on legislation to delay the mandate indefinitely — which Manchin’s office says the senator does not support — and it’s entirely possible the GOP could push for a delay provision to be included as an amendment vote to the next moving vehicle, using Manchin’s effort as leverage inside the Dome and as political fodder outside it, from entities such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The Rubio bill would delay the mandate for six months after a Government Accountability Office certification that the healthcare.gov website is working.

Manchin said on Fox that he was developing a measure with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., that would delay the mandate until the beginning of January 2015.

“He believes that this year should be a transition year and the penalty should not be imposed. He does believe that individuals should still be able to sign up for the exchanges if they want,” Manchin spokesman Jonathan Kott said in an emailed statement.

Senate Republicans have focused extensively on targeting in-cycle Democrats from more moderate states for their support of health care, including Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska. A Democrat floating legislation that would keep the mandate, which is the heart of the Democrats’ health care law, in the spotlight, knowing that the administration and leadership likely would prevent it from becoming law with exchanges already open, only creates political heartache for Democrats and bolsters the Republican position.

An actionable bill — as opposed to just a slap-on-the-wrist letter, like one Tuesday from in-cycle Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. — will force Democrats to take public positions, potentially repeatedly, on an issue that could be neatly packaged into attack ads.

O’Reilly told Rubio on Tuesday’s “The O’Reilly Factor” that he would invite the West Virginia senator on the show to discuss partnering with Republicans on legislation.

“Yes, get Manchin’s name on it. Get Manchin of West Virginia’s name on it,” O’Reilly told Rubio. “And then you know it will be interesting to see if he has stones — pardon the expression — to put his name on something like that because he said he would. He said he would support it. So if you can get him.”

On Wednesday, O’Reilly told Manchin that he hoped the two senators would work together to find a compromise. He added that he plans to invite both Rubio and Manchin back for further discussions next week.

Clarification: This post has been updated to clarify the specifics of the Rubio bill.

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