Politico Pro reported earlier this week that some of Obamacare's loyal supporters are questioning the wisdom of Obamacare's employer mandate - the requirement that all employers either provide health insurance for their workers or else pay fines. Liberal Democratic wonks and hacks alike have begun describing the employer mandate with words like “onerous” and “not critical.” Think-tankers at the Urban Institute and Democratic congressional candidates like Natalie Tennant of West Virginia are even hinting that the mandate may not be justified. Funny, didn't Tea Partiers make the same arguments in 2009 and 2010?
It is thus ironic to see Democrats turning against the employer mandate in 2014, as it is one of Obamacare's more popular provisions. Polling has consistently shown that the employer mandate enjoys much broader support than the individual mandate - the requirement that all Americans carry health insurance or pay fines, which President Obama has vigorously defended.
A New York Times poll from December showed that 68 percent of respondents, and 77 percent of uninsured respondents, disapproved of “requiring nearly all Americans to have health insurance coverage by 2014 or pay a penalty.” But from the same sample, 56 percent said they support “requiring employers with 50 or more employees to pay a fine if they don't offer health insurance.”
Why would Democrats suddenly give up on one of the few popular provisions in a law that is already weighing them down politically? Perhaps they belatedly recognize the employer mandate's potential consequences to the economy and to their own political fates in 2014. It was, after all, always laden with perverse incentives.
It encourages businesses and governments to shift toward part-time hiring for low-wage work. It discourages businesses of a particular size from hiring new employees. It has been particularly hard on substitute teachers, bus drivers, and other part-time workers for local school districts, as well as adjunct faculty at public colleges, whose hours have been reduced.
The private sector is suffering ill effects as well. Six years after the financial crisis of 2007, the number of full-time jobs in the U.S. has not only failed to recover its pre-recession high but is in fact lower today than it was at any point in 2006. For workers age 25 to 54, the situation is even worse - there are still 3.3 million fewer of them working full-time today than there were at the turn of the century.
And as was noted here Monday, the number of full-time jobs in the economy suddenly plummeted in June, as it had the previous June - both months during which employers were expecting the Obamacare mandate to take effect at year's end. So it's about time at least some of Obamacare's defenders are finally expressing concerns about weighing the employer mandate's costs against benefits.
Too bad it didn't happen in 2009 when Congress debated Obamacare and could have targeted it to the uninsured poor, rather than crippling employment and forcing millions of happily insured Americans to drop coverage they wanted to keep, as Obama promised they could.