As a not-so-serious part of their ongoing effort to get rid of ObamaCare, House Republicans in May started a Twitter fight they called #ObamacareInThreeWords. Rep. Darrell Issa got things started with a tweet that said simply, “Serious Sticker Shock.” Rep. Michele Bachmann added “IRS In Charge.” Sen. Richard Burr tossed in “Huge Train Wreck.”
Democrats hit back, weakly, with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's “Good for America” and Rep. Gregory Meeks' “What America Needs.” And then the White House stepped in with a killer line: “It's. The. Law.” The tweet was accompanied by a photo of the president's signature on the Affordable Care Act, dated March 23, 2010.
Now, however, it appears the administration's bravado was all for show. At the same time Obama was expressing great confidence, White House officials were secretly meeting with representatives of big business to discuss ways to postpone enforcement of parts of the new law. The White House has now announced that the employer mandate — sometimes described as a “crucial” element of ObamaCare — will be delayed to 2015 from its scheduled start on Jan. 1, 2014.
The move stunned Republicans in Congress, who immediately asked: Whose feedback? What businesses were meeting with the White House? What deals did they make?
“These communications and the decision-making process related to the delay ... have not been disclosed publicly,” wrote House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton in a letter to the Treasury Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. Along with 13 other Republican committee members, Upton demanded the administration reveal which businesses and which government officials were involved in the decision.
But the bigger question for Republicans is how to handle the administration's surprise retreat. Should they focus on secrecy, as Upton & Co. are doing? Should they push the White House to explain how ObamaCare can still work when large employers don't have to pay fines for not covering workers and, perhaps more importantly, don't have to report their employees' health care information to the giant new ObamaCare bureaucracy, so the bureaucracy can determine whether those employees are eligible to buy coverage on the exchanges?
Or should Republicans just keep pressing for repeal of the whole thing?
“The question here is for the administration — not us — and it's basically this: At what point will they realize that this law is unworkable?” asks one GOP Senate aide.
ObamaCare is designed to increase the number of Americans who depend on the government to pay for health insurance. It will expand the Medicaid rolls, and it will give subsidies to millions of individuals and families to purchase insurance on the exchanges. In all, the government will be transferring hundreds of billions of dollars to Americans for health coverage.
The White House knows that once those payments begin, repealing ObamaCare will no longer be an abstract question of removing legislation not yet in effect. Instead, it will be a very real matter of taking money away from people.
Retreating on the employer mandate was a big deal. But the White House would rather do that than endanger the flow of money that is the heart of ObamaCare. The White House will not waver on that, no matter what Republicans say or do.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.