Democrats Can Delay Obamacare, But Not the Voters' Judgment

They have a lot of explaining to do.

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FILE - In this Dec. 9, 2009, file photo, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., speaks at a health care news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Far from reversing course, Senate Democrats who backed President Barack Obama’s health care law and now face re-election in GOP-leaning states are reinforcing their support for the overhaul even as Republicans intensify their criticism. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina will face voters in 2014 for the first time since voting for the Affordable Care Act _ commonly called Obamacare _ three years ago.

For those who may have been caught off guard by the White House's tacit admission that Obamacare is a game of smoke-and-mirrors and a political disaster in the waiting for congressional Democrats heading into 2014, yesterday's announcement – that a provision requiring employers to provide health insurance for workers would be delayed by a year – should not have been their first clue.  

Roughly 15 months ago, the Obama administration didn't merely delay but actually pulled the plug on another key aspect of their health care law which they had initially included to gin up a phony Congressional Budget Office score and offer the illusion of deficit savings in the bill.  

During a famous  February 2010 exchange at the White House, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called out the president directly on this program known as the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program, or CLASS, and observed that even the Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee called it a "Ponzi scheme." 

[ See a collection of political cartoons on health care.]

And it wasn't just Republicans sounding the alarm either. As the Associated Press reported at the time:

Even as leading Democrats offered assurances to the contrary, government experts repeatedly warned that a new long-term care insurance plan could go belly up, saddling taxpayers with another underfunded benefit program, according to emails disclosed by congressional investigators. Part of President Barack Obama's health care law, the program is in limbo as a congressional debt panel searches for budget savings and behind the scenes, administration officials scramble to find a viable financing formula.

Nonetheless and undeterred, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and White House officials cobbled together the final version of Obamacare behind closed doors, they included the CLASS Act in order to give political fiscal cover to wavering Democrats, at the same time they were buying off the final votes with now-infamous incentives like the Louisiana Purchase, the Cornhusker Kickback and Gator-Aid.  

It allowed Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. for example to claim that the bill would "make coverage more affordable, reliable and accessible without breaking the bank ," while Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., claimed that CBO had analyzed the bill "and determined that it will lower or stabilize insurance premiums" and "reduce the U.S. Budget deficit by $210 billion over the next 10 years ." Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., went even further, claiming that Obamacare would actually save taxpayers as much as $1.2 trillion over 20 years, while controlling exploding health care costs and increasing access to care.  

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

And what happened?

In a classic late Friday news dump a year after they rammed Obamacare into law on a straight party-line vote, the White House pulled the plug on the CLASS Act and in doing so, confirmed that much of the tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer savings Democrats claimed were in the bill were nothing more than an illusion – a political Ponzi scheme.  

And so it's no coincidence that as Congress is on recess and Washington is quiet ahead of the July 4th holiday, the political team at the Obama White House dropped another bombshell confirming that yet another major aspect of their health care overhaul is facing serious problems as well.  

It's also not a surprise. For months, employers have been sounding the same alarm bells that they did when the bill was first passed three years ago.  

In California, the Modesto Bee recently headlined, " Valley employers grapple with health care act," while across the country in Pennsylvania, the Allentown Morning Call led last week with, " East Penn cuts cafeteria workers' hours to avoid Obamacare." Even the Hollywood Reporter warned recently that major motion picture studios would be sending jobs overseas to escape the big hand of Obamacare. And on Monday, an extensive Wall Street Journal analysis determined that health insurance rates for healthy consumers who play by the rules are set to double, or even triple, as the law takes effect.  

[ See a collection of political cartoons on sequestration and the fiscal cliff.]

But while's it clear that yesterday's holiday news dump was less about protecting America's job creators, and more about curbing voter anger and protecting imperiled Democratic Senators in 2014, this latest political gambit may very well backfire.

It brings the Obamacare debate back to the forefront and forces every Democratic Senator to once again explain to voters back home why they wrote this deeply flawed bill behind closed doors, rammed it through on a party line vote, and didn't listen to the concerns of millions of Americans.  

From Pryor to Hagan to Landrieu to Alaska Sen. Mark Begich – who claimed just two weeks ago that Americans will realize "all the good" in Obamacare "as this all comes online" – every Democrat facing voters in 2014 will have a lot to account for.

This announcement only further confirms they have a serious political problem on their hands heading into 2014. But they also have no one to blame but themselves for playing political games and not listening to the American people three years ago. 


Updated 11/5/13: Brian Walsh remains a paid adviser to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.