On Health Care, GOP Has ‘Really Busy Month’ Ahead

KHN’s Mary Agnes Carey talks with Politico Pro’s Paige Winfield Cunningham about the latest Republican effort to delay or repeal Obamacare provisions, including putting off a mandate on individuals to carry health insurance.

>> Listen to their conversation here.

MARY AGNES CAREY: Welcome to Health on the Hill, I’m Mary Agnes Carey. The Obama administration’s decision to postpone, by one year, a requirement that companies with 50 or more workers offer health insurance or pay a fine has brought heavy criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Today, members of the House Ways & Means health subcommittee examined the administration’s decision to postpone the health law’s employer mandate. With us to discuss the hearing is Page Winfield Cunningham of Politico Pro. Thanks for joining us.

PAIGE WINFIELD CUNNINGHAM: I’m glad to be here.

MARY AGNES CAREY: Paige, you and I have covered a lot of these hearings on the Affordable Care Act, which is also known as the ACA. And today, I heard a lot of what I’ve heard at some of those other hearings: Democrats defending the law, Republicans attacking it. What was new?

PAIGE WINFIELD CUNNINGHAM: You’re absolutely right. We’ve heard the same arguments over and over again from Republicans. But what I think was new today was that they do have a new piece of ammunition to throw at the same target. And that is now that the administration is giving employers another year to comply with the law, Republicans are trying to make the case that this is really unfair to individuals and families who are also going to be faced with this mandate. And they’re saying, “If you’re going to treat one person, give one party the special treatment, you really should apply it across the board to everyone.”

But, they’re really trying to use that argument to aim at the same thing, and that is the overall health care law. So you’re hearing a lot of the same arguments that the law is not ready; that the administration is saying it will be, but it won’t; other parts of the law have already been repealed; the exchanges aren’t all rolling out as the administration thought with some states refusing to run them themselves. So they’re trying to feed all of this into that broader argument that the health care law is just fundamentally flawed.

MARY AGNES CAREY: What did Democrats say about this delay in the employer mandate? Do they support it?

PAIGE WINFIELD CUNNINGHAM:  Absolutely. They’re trying to make the case that the administration is just listening to the business community, which has been very vocal over the last year, saying that they need more time, they need more details about the regulations, that that they’re not going to be ready on Jan. 1.

So Democrats are saying: “Hey, the administration is doing its best job to roll out a really big, complicated law. They’re just listening and being attentive.” You also saw ranking member Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) talk a lot about how this is really just one small piece of the law. It’s not really going to affect that many people. There was a small portion of folks that were expected to get employer-sponsored coverage next year. But in the broad scheme of things, this is just one piece of the puzzle.

So they’re saying Republicans are really blowing this up too much.

MARY AGNES CAREY:  This isn’t the only hearing on this subject. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who heads the Ways & Means health subcommittee, said they’re going to have another hearing next week. They’ll have a witness from Treasury there to discuss the delay. We know there are other Hill committees with hearings on the horizon.

How might those be different? What might we learn in addition at those hearings?

PAIGE WINFIELD CUNNINGHAM:  I think Republicans are really trying to capitalize on this opportunity before the August recess, so you’re right, they’re rolling out a lot of hearings. We might even see one come out of the Education & the Workforce Committee, which has a little bit of jurisdiction.

I think they’re trying to really drill down and find out why the administration made this decision, what was going on behind the scenes. But mostly they really, I think, want to call the administration out and make them publicly talk about this and really put them on the hot seat and force them to answer questions about this. There had been some suggestions by Republicans that the administration didn’t have the legal authority to do this. So that’s probably going to be part of the discussions, as well.

MARY AGNES CAREY:  You mentioned this is now in the political arena, as well. House Speaker John Boehner has promised additional votes on the ACA. Tell us about those.

PAIGE WINFIELD CUNNINGHAM:  It is going to be a really busy month. There could be three votes this month before they leave for recess. One would be to also delay the mandate for individuals and families. That could possibly be paired with another bill that would basically do what the administration has already done, which is delay the employer mandate. The Republicans want to force Democrats to vote on that [employer provision], and then hold a vote on individuals and families, to kind of call them out that way. And then a third vote would be on a bill sponsored by Congressman Tom Price. That would be to basically ban IRS from doing anything to implement the law.

So we could see three votes on that coming down the pipeline very soon.

MARY AGNES CAREY: Who does this bring political leverage to in the midterms? The Republicans? The Democrats? Both?

PAIGE WINFIELD CUNNINGHAM: It’s a little hard to say at this point. Probably Republicans, because they’ve been trying to make a case all along that this law was not going to be ready in time, and here’s a piece of evidence they can point to. I guess the thing working in favor for the Democrats is: The business community had been very, very vocal about wanting a delay and wanting some changes. This decision is allowing the administration to say: Hey, we’re listening to you, we’re attentive to what the stakeholders are saying.

So we’ll see how it plays out. But Republicans are going to keep this in the forefront as much as they can.

MARY AGNES CAREY: Thank you so much, Paige Winfield Cunningham.