By Paige Winfield Cunningham
Republicans marched on with their fresh offensive against the health care law at a House hearing Wednesday, painting the employer mandate delay as just one of many Obamacare failures.
Conservatives are using the delay to boost their case that the law is a massive failure, even though relatively few Americans are expected to miss out on employer-sponsored coverage next year because the employer mandate won't take effect until 2015.
"Look at the pattern of delays and failures that have occurred since implementation began," said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, which was holding the hearing. He pointed to several parts of the law that have been repealed, the fact that many states aren't running their own exchanges and delays in issuing navigator grants.
"Clearly the rollout of Obamacare is in disarray and experts are questioning whether the White House is competent enough to administer its own massive health care law," Brady said.
GOP members fired off a volley of other criticisms during the hearing, which featured testimony from business leaders and health law critics but no members of the administration.
Lawmakers complained about the timing of the delay, argued that coverage mandates should also be postponed for individuals and families, and charged that it doesn't fix what they view as fundamental problems with the law.
"This law is literally just unraveling before our eyes. I don't know how you can conclude this isn't a total fiasco," said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who chairs the Budget Committee.
Others questioned the administration's motives.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) accused the administration of basing the decision on political motivations. "Delaying the reporting requirements for a year just so happens to fall after the 2014 election," he said. "Talk about politics."
And Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) called on the administration to "be honest" about why it's delaying the mandate. "It's not because small businesses asked for it," he said. "There's no infrastructure in place to handle it. Come on, at least be honest about it."
The way the administration announced the decision -- by posting a blog to the Treasury website shortly before a holiday weekend -- also received scrutiny.
"Now what happens before a holiday week? The administration in a blog post essentially whispers, "It's not working,'" said Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, lowering his voice to a whisper and generating a ripple of laughter throughout the room.
"You may not be able to hear me, but the whole country heard that whisper," he said.
Republicans on Ways and Means and the other committees with jurisdiction over the health care law have launched investigations into the delay, asking HHS to turn over more information on how the decision was made.
And House GOP leaders said Tuesday that they'll hold as many as three votes this month repealing or delaying parts of the law: on delaying the employer mandate, on delaying the individual mandate and on the IRS's authority to enforce the law
Ways and Means Democrats downplayed the effects of the decision, pointing out that most large employers already offer coverage.
"I didn't spend my Fourth of July weekend combing over the implications of the change, and I doubt I'm alone," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), a senior Democrat on the panel. "The fact is that Obamacare is largely unaffected by this delay."
He also rebuffed Republicans for trying to vote yet again on the health law.
"I'm sure it's tempting for those who have stood against reform and progress from the beginning to see this as a chance to rip Obamacare apart. We're even going to get a 38th vote to dismantle it, just for good measure," McDermott said.