The Obama administration’s abrupt announcement of a year-long delay on a 2014 Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate, which requires businesses of 50 or more full-time employees to provide health benefits, is as unanticipated as it is politically enigmatic.
The employee benefit clause, by far the most controversial element in the groundbreaking legislation, was a key component in the U.S. Supreme Court hearing brought against the administration in the case of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius circa 2012.
The landmark court decision, which solidified the constitutionality of the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to monitor, regulate and enforce the mandate, played to the Obama administration’s favor prior to a tumultuously partisan presidential election. Yet somehow, it fell flat on its face in the past few weeks.
The Obama camp’s official reasoning seems arbitrary and politically calculated — businesses need more time to prepare for the looming deadline, so an additional year should suffice.
Coincidentally, the midterm Congressional elections, in which all 435 seats of the U.S. House of Representatives and 35 seats of the U.S. Senate will be up for grabs, occur in the same timespan.
After a feeble, unproductive Congressional session and a post-electoral presidential tenure fraught with scandals, Democrats face possible elimination as the majority in the Senate and a plausible decline in an already Republican-dominated House.
As a result of its debatable nature, both in public polls and courtrooms, the entire act was used as a contentious talking point against the administration.
But postponing the mandate that helped fuel, if not fully ignite, the polemical rhetoric many conservatives used to clout the Democrats is a double-edged sword, much like any decision in the electoral arena, that may end up backfiring.
The delay not only exhibits the diplomatic malleability of a man who won a Nobel Peace Prize for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” but also clears room for a myriad of conservative criticisms against an already divisive issue.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner had already assumed the offensive position when the decision was brought into the public arena, claiming the move was evidence that the mandate was a miscalculation that would hurt small businesses, simultaneously embellishing the archetypal populist mantra: If businesses can get a break, why can’t individuals?
The mixed message seems to be that the administration cares about affordable healthcare but not enough to undermine party chances in the upcoming election. Regardless of intent, rescheduling the ACA mandate resonates weakness in policy on part of the administration and a general lack of concern about putting constituents first.