Republicans focus Obamacare fight on 'mandate tax'

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As budget negotiations begin and the rollout of the Obamacare exchanges continues to sputter, House Republicans have set their sights on delaying the penalty that individuals must pay if they don't buy insurance.

The administration and Senate Democrats have repeatedly rebuffed a push by Republicans to delay for a year the mandate that individuals buy insurance. But as millions of Americans struggle to purchase health insurance on the error-prone online marketplaces, Republicans have lobbied for a postponement of the penalty levied on those who fail to show proof of insurance on their April taxes.

"With so many unanswered questions and the problems arising around this rollout, it doesn't make any sense to impose this 1 percent mandate tax on the American people," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Much has been made of the problems with the Affordable Care Act federal insurance marketplaces since they went online Oct. 1. While millions have attempted to access the site, only a small percentage purchased coverage, leaving the administration scrambling for a fix.

But the renewed push — and rebranding the fight as not an attack on the individual mandate but on its tax — also comes as Senate Democrats and House Republicans work behind the scenes on a budget compromise to fund government beyond Jan. 15.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., vowed to put everything on the table during those discussions, including revisions to President Obama's signature health care law, if Republicans finally agreed to a deal to raise the debt ceiling and reopen government.

As those talks commence and public angst over Obamacare continues to intensify, House Republicans believe they have some momentum to win a short term delay of the penalty.

"I think what you're going to see at the end of October are more Americans are going to lose their health insurance than are going to sign up at these exchanges," House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday.

Republicans will hold a House subcommittee hearing Thursday to begin to address the glitches, Rep. Tim Murphy said, in what will likely be a public shaming of several administration officials. Murphy called for Obama to pause his so-called "tech surge" to fix the problem, warning of the costs.

"This tech surge is comparable to trying to fix a car by overhauling it while it's still rolling down the highway," Murphy said. "At some point you have to decide can it be fixed or do we scrap this and get a new one."

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