In May, as House Republicans prepared to vote to repeal Obamacare, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., prodded his followers on Twitter to describe the health care legislation in three words. A half hour later, the official White House Twitter feed responded with “It’s. The. Law.” and attached a photo of President Obama’s signature on the bill on March 23, 2010. Nearly four years after he signed it, however, the reality is that Obamacare is less a law and really just whatever Obama makes of it.
One of the key components of Obamacare was a requirement that businesses with 50 or more employees either offer workers insurance the administration deemed acceptable, or else pay a tax. The provision had been added to prevent a scenario under which employers responded to the new subsidies for individuals to purchase insurance by simply dumping their workers on the new government-run exchange. Without the mandate, more people who liked their employer health plans would lose them. An earlier version of the legislation without the employer mandate was found by the Congressional Budget Office to cost more and cover fewer people.
As for the effective date of the employer mandate, the text of Obamacare that Obama signed into law was quite clear: The mandate “shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2013."
In July, however, in the face of bad headlines about businesses cutting full-time employees to get below the threshold of 50 that triggers the fine, Obama's Treasury Department delayed the mandate for a year, explaining that the delay would give the government more time to simplify the administrative process and give businesses an extra year to make the transition to the new requirements. Ultimately, Treasury predicted the delay would "contribute to a smoother transition to full implementation in 2015."
On Monday, Obama announced yet another delay to the law's requirement. Now, in 2015, the penalties will only hit employers who have 100 or more employees. These larger employers will only be penalized if they fail to offer coverage to 70 percent of their full-time employees, rather than the 95 percent previously required. This will push headlines of businesses cutting full-time workers beyond the 2014 elections at a time when Obamacare's mounting failures are already a millstone around the necks of Democrats.
The employer mandate move is merely the latest in a long list of unilateral changes Obama has made to his signature law. His administration delayed the implementation of income verification requirements for those applying for federal health insurance subsidies; minimized the impact of a “reinsurance fee” on labor union health care plans; and announced he wouldn’t enforce rules in the law that had spurred insurers to cancel millions of health care plans, undercutting his promise that those who liked their plan could keep it.
The actual text of the legislation he signed is secondary to what best serves his political purpose at the time. While Republicans are attacked for wanting to sabotage Obamacare whenever they propose reasonable changes through the constitutional legislative process, it has been deemed perfectly acceptable for Obama to unilaterally make sweeping alterations.