Why Some Scared Democrats Want to Change the Obamacare Deadline

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 23 2013 5:57 PM

Why Some Scared Democrats Want to Change the Obamacare Deadline

Some of them did see it coming. During the government shutdown, while the story of HealthCare.gov's botched rollout was being subsumed, some Republicans argued that the problems totally validated their plan B -- a one-year delay of the individual mandate. "A one year delay of that tax is more than fair given how poorly the rollout of ObamaCare has been," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on October 8. "President Obama gave this same relief that we’re asking for to big businesses."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

But the GOP had to be defeated in the Great Shutdown Wars before the Narrative could really pivot back to HealthCare.gov. The weekend retool of the site and the president's Sunday/Monday mea culpa has re-inspired Republicans. Faced with local media questions about the site problems, some Democrats are now calling for the law's hard enrollment deadline to be pushed back. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who has been calling for a delay of the mandate since he got to Washington, is calling for it again.

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Welcome to that familiar storybook, "Democrats in Disarray." The linchpin of the story seems to be the suggestion by New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and some House Democrats to move back the enrollment date and the start of the individual mandate. (In 2014 that's going to cost the unenrolled either $95 or 1 percent of their taxable income, whichever is higher.)

And here's how the Drudge Report linked that report.

The discriminating reader will notice that these are two different things. The mandate is the tax that non-insured people will have to pay; the enrollment deadline is the enrollment deadline. Twenty-two House Democrats and Joe Manchin have previously been on the record for a one-year mandate delay, but that's not what's being talked about here.

FUD is already part of the storyline. Here, the conservative PAC America Rising reports that Sen. Mark Begich has "flip-flopped on the individual mandate" because he now wants some unspecified time added to the enrollment clock. Here's the NRCC saying Rep. Jared Polis "today called for 'waivers' from the federal government for his constituents who don’t buy health insurance." What Polis actually wants -- one year of waivers for residents of Summit County, Colorado, until they could be consolidated with other counties in the state's exchange and drive their rates down.

This is obviously a story of Democrats facing re-election and sweating negative feedback from the troubled roll-out. No spinning that. Democratic hypocrisy? Well: The Republicans who wanted a one-year delay specifically wanted it to knock out the foundations of the law. The Democrats who want to fiddle with the deadline now don't want to end the mandate -- they want to maximize the numbers of enrollments. The moral hazard of a short delay is hardly comparable to that of a one-year punt.

But I remember when Manchin's previous endorsement of a mandate delay was interpreted, by Republicans, as the first blocks coming down the walls of Jericho. I'm girded for a sequel -- with a fresh new subplot about how "Republicans offered this and Democrats rejected it," for all you gullible people.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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