WASHINGTON — House Republicans, politically emboldened by President Barack Obama’s delay of a key requirement of his health care law, are taking another run at scrapping his signature domestic policy.
The House has scheduled votes 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 are 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.
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 requiring businesses with 50 or more employees to provide health coverage for their workers or pay a penalty.
Republicans seized on that decision as new evidence that the law is unworkable and should be repealed.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.
In advance of the votes, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, stood on the House floor Tuesday and ridiculed Democratic comments that the law has been “wonderful” for the country.
“The law isn’t wonderful, it’s a train wreck. You know it. I know it. And the American people know it. Even the president knows it. That’s why he proposed delaying his mandate on employers,” Boehner said. “But it’s unfair to protect big businesses without giving the same relief to American families and small businesses.”
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.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, defended the administration’s decision to delay the employer mandate, arguing it only affects a small number of businesses while ensuring that those affected have the necessary information. He said the individual mandate is more straightforward in its implementation.
“I’m not surprised the Republicans continue to want to repeal the Affordable Care Act because that has been their position all along, from the very beginning,” Hoyer told reporters Tuesday. “They have no alternative. … Republicans have no alternatives and as a result I think this is just more of the same in terms of their opposition. Are they going to make some political hay out of it. They are going to try.”
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 will be holding 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.
Under the health law, companies with 50 or more workers must provide affordable coverage to their full-time employees or risk a series of escalating tax penalties if just one worker ends up getting government-subsidized insurance. Originally, that requirement was supposed to take effect Jan. 1. It will now be delayed to 2015.