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Obamacare delay emboldens repealers, makes it 2014 issue

By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Political Editor
July 3, 2013 -- Updated 1837 GMT (0237 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama administration announces one-year delay in health law employer mandate
  • Republicans pounce, intensify calls to repeal Obamacare
  • Issue likely to emerge bigger in 2014 midterms as Democrats defend Senate majority
  • Other key provisions of law -- individual mandate, health exchanges -- not impacted by move

Washington (CNN) -- The e-mails came fast and furious.

Soon after the Treasury Department announced a one-year delay in a key provision of President Barack Obama's sweeping health care law, the Affordable Care Act, Republicans quickly called for its repeal.

"This announcement means even the Obama administration knows the 'train wreck' will only get worse," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. "This is a clear acknowledgment that the law is unworkable, and it underscores the need to repeal the law and replace it with effective, patient-centered reforms."

GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also called for its repeal, saying the move was a "remarkable acknowledgment by the Obama administration that Obamacare is a disaster in progress that will hurt job creators and those looking for work."

Key Obamacare provision delayed

While the delay announced late on Tuesday is viewed as a setback for the Obama administration as it seeks to implement the law, a look through the political lens shows that Obamacare could become a bigger issue in the 2014 midterms than it was in 2010, the year it passed Congress.

Health care battle heats up again

The Treasury Department postponed the provision that required businesses with more than 50 employees to provide their workers with health insurance or face fines. Businesses had expressed concerns about the complexity of the law's reporting requirements.

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett defended the move, saying in a blog post that "we have and will continue to make changes as needed" as the law is implemented.

"In our ongoing discussions with businesses we have heard that you need the time to get this right. We are listening," she said in the posting.

CNNMoney: Obamacare delay Q&A

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi both came to the administration's defense.

"This move will allow businesses more time to adapt their health coverage as the administration continues its efforts to simplify reporting, and allow for testing and changes to health benefits throughout 2014," Pelosi said.

The timing of the announcement, with the president flying home from Africa during a shortened July 4 workweek and the news cycle dominated by political upheaval in Egypt and the George Zimmerman murder trial, seemed to indicate some in the administration wanted to bury the development.

Some Republicans also suggested campaign politics were at play.

Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, said the move was "a cynical political ploy to delay the coming train wreck associated with Obamacare until after the 2014 elections."

CNNMoney: Health care stocks pull back on Obamacare delay

Congressional Republicans united

Next year, Democrats will defend 21 of the 35 seats up for grabs in the Senate. They currently hold a 54-46 edge, including two Independents who caucus with the party, and they hope to extend it following October's special election in New Jersey.

"While on the one hand many will rightly see this as a nakedly political move by the White House to blunt public anger over Obamacare ahead of the 2014 elections, it could very well have the opposite effect," Republican strategist Brian Walsh told CNN.

"It brings this debate back to center stage and forces every Democratic senator to explain 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," said Walsh, a former communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Congressional Republicans were united against Obamacare in 2010 and have not stopped criticizing it or trying to scrap it since.

In May, the House voted to scrap or defund all or parts of the law for the 37th time. House Republicans, who will defend their current 17-seat majority next year, have made it clear that railing against the health care law would be a central focus in the midterms.

CNNMoney: The overblown Obamacare myth about small businesses

"I've said for some time I think 2014 will be the year of Obamacare because that's when most of this begins to phase in," Oregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden, who heads the House Republican Campaign Committee, told CNN Senior Congressional Producer Deirdre Walsh, in May.

CNN Chief National Correspondent John King said, "Call any Republican strategist anywhere in the country. Ask them what they thought was the single biggest factor would be in creating an intensity gap in 2014 in getting the Republican base fired up -- Obamacare."

"They thought even as the law was being implemented, there would be hiccups, if not problems, or worse. This was their central turnout strategy. Yes, they think the IRS controversy helps, the six-year-itch history helps, but Republicans were basing their turnout strategy on the implementation of Obamacare in 2014," King said.

"The administration says businesses were complaining and this was all about policy. This will also have a huge political impact," he added.

Mandate, exchanges not impacted

But the administration's move this week doesn't have any impact on the individual mandate to buy insurance, which is the most controversial part of the law, or the health exchanges through which coverage can be purchased.

With midterms on the horizon, which party gains?

"Critics of Obamacare have long argued that the mandate that businesses with more than 50 full-time employees provide health insurance or pay a per-employee fine would lead to layoffs. To push the possibility of layoffs out of an election year -- advantage Democrats," CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley said.

"But to be able to argue (they have and will) in an election year that Obamacare is so bad, a major portion of it couldn't be implemented more than three years after passage - advantage Republicans," added Crowley, anchor of CNN's State of the Union. "So let's call it a kind of draw and see what happens when the individual mandate kicks in."

King said the move "forces both sides to reconsider the 2014 environment, and while the GOP says the delay proves it was right on policy, that the law is too unwieldy to implement, those same Republicans were counting on the politics of Obamacare working in their 2014 favor."

CNN's Kevin Liptak contributed to this report

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