Donald Lambro

Republicans are planning to make Obamacare and its job-killing mandates a major issue in the midterm House and Senate races, warning that it will lead to higher health insurance premiums and that "the train wreck will only get worse," said House Speaker John Boehner. "This is a clear acknowledgment that the law is unworkable."

That fear has led to a case of the political jitters among Democrats in Congress who've privately expressed their concerns to the White House. It hasn't gotten much media attention, but lawmakers in both parties have just begun to draft bipartisan legislation that would raise the mandate's threshold for employees who work more than 40 hours a week, among other changes.

The decision to postpone the mandate was made by President Obama on Air Force One as he was returning from Africa on Tuesday. But the last-minute pullback didn't sit well with some of his advisers.

Bob Kocher, a former health care adviser to Obama, expressed disappointment, saying it will result in a growing uncertainty about when other sections of the law will take effect. "It confuses people [and] will undermine all the other rules because people will expect delay," he said.

Other Obamacare supporters worry that any delays will give opponents of the law more confidence that they can kill it outright.

"Politically, it won't get easier a year from now, it will get harder," says John McDonough, a Harvard professor who was Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's health policy adviser.

"You've given the employer community a sense of confidence that maybe they can kill this. If I were an employer, I would smell blood in the water," he said.

That's exactly what is happening on Capitol Hill among Republicans who have been emboldened by Obama's last minute decision to delay the mandate's implementation.

"Instead of simply delaying implementation of Obamacare, we should repeal it in its entirety," said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, the well-funded election strike force that bankrolls pro-economic growth candidates.

"Obamacare is a horrible piece of legislation that will harm economic growth and it must be stopped," Chocola said.

The message that the White House has been getting since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 is that business will pare down their work force to reduce their exposure to higher healthcare costs. It is now beginning to sink in, as more Democrats are beginning to hear this from their business constituents back home.

That's the message Neil Trautwein, vice president of the National Retail Federation, has been pushing in his meetings with administration officials: "If you set a hard, 30-hour limit for eligibility, you encourage employers to cut where they can." And that means cutting jobs.

Let's not mince words. The White House's decision to delay the mandate was driven by the nation's weak jobs numbers and its looming political impact next year.

In his mid-year review of the economy Tuesday, the Post's Neil Irwin concluded, "no progress has been made in putting more Americans to work in 2013."

While the national unemployment rate remains around 7.6, the bleak reality is that 18 states -- including the most populated ones -- have much higher jobless rates and 15 of them are between 8 percent and 9.5 percent.

As long as these numbers persist, Obama's employer mandate is dead in the water.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.



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