WASHINGTON — House Republicans pressed ahead Wednesday on delaying key components of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, emboldened by the administration’s concession that requiring companies to provide coverage for their workers next year may be too complicated.
The House has scheduled votes later Wednesday to delay the law’s individual and employer mandates, the 38th time the GOP majority has tried to eliminate, defund or scale back the program since Republicans took control of the House in January 2011.
The votes were a chance to score political points and highlight public skepticism over the law. The legislation is going nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate and the administration said emphatically Tuesday the president would veto the measures.
Republicans seized on the administration’s abrupt decision earlier this month to delay for one year, until after the 2014 elections, the requirement that businesses with 50 or more employees provide health coverage for their workers or pay a penalty.
Republicans insisted that the president couldn’t unilaterally decide to enforce only portions of the law. They planned votes on one bill that would essentially codify the administration’s plan as well as a second bill that provides a similar grace period for individual Americans.
“If the president believes the employer mandate is too much for the employer community, how about basic fairness for American families and individuals?” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at a news conference.
Democrats insisted it was all political theater and another attempt by the GOP to undermine the law.
Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., said Republicans weren’t simply trying to delay the requirements. “It is their intention to destroy the Affordable Care Act … to do away with it, to annihilate it entirely,” Crowley said.
He said the “the definition of insanity … is doing something 38 times and still getting the same results.”
The goal of the health care law was to provide coverage to nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance in a massive overhaul of the current system. In a surprise move earlier this month, the Obama administration announced a one-year delay in the employer mandate.
“We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively,” Treasury Assistant Secretary Mark Mazur said in a blog post. “We have listened to your feedback and we are taking action.”
Republicans seized on that decision as new evidence that the law is unworkable and should be repealed. The GOP also accused a Democratic president of favoring businesses over average Americans, who will still be required to carry health insurance starting next Jan. 1 or risk fines.
The House will vote on two bills: one by Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., to implement the president’s one-year delay in the employer mandate, and another by Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., to delay the individual mandate. Although Griffin’s bill would implement a policy the Obama administration has already announced, it’s part of a broader GOP attack on the health care law with the goal of repeal.
The White House said in a statement vowing a veto that “it’s time for the Congress to stop fighting old political battles and join the president” in boosting the economy and helping the middle class.
In the days leading up to the vote, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which helps elect GOP candidates, has issued a flurry of news releases calling on Democratic incumbents to vote for a delay in the individual mandate and posing the question “Big business got a break from Obamacare, but what about families?”
“It was a shocking admission of defeat when the Obama administration delayed the disastrous law’s employer mandate,” the NRCC said in one release directed at Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn. “Though big business may be delayed from the onerous effects of Obamacare, middle-class families across Connecticut won’t.”
Stepping up the pressure, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on the administration’s delay of the employer mandate, questioning J. Mark Iwry, a Treasury Department official and top adviser on health policy.