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Health Insurance Mandate Votes Are Designed to Put Democrats on Defense

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
It’s unclear whether Pelosi and Democratic leadership will whip against either of the two bills House Republicans are offering to delay implementation of parts of the Affordable Care Act.

House Republican leaders, who have struggled at times to keep their conference together, have set floor votes on health care designed to show that the Democratic Caucus is fractured, too.

On the heels of the Obama administration’s recent announcement that it would delay enforcement of the employer health insurance mandate, Republicans have scheduled separate votes on a pair of bills, one codifying that announcement and one delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, too.

The decision to delay, rather than repeal, is significant: Moderate Democrats and 2014 “frontliners” who oppose parts of the health care law but not the law itself will be forced to decide whether they want to turn away from their leadership and the White House to vote with Republicans in favor of the delays.

“They are playing this very well,” a chief of staff to a moderate Democrat said of the GOP.

Republicans acknowledge the attempt to expose Democrats on the issue.

“Having the votes in this fashion will highlight the hypocrisy of any Democrat who votes for delaying the employer mandate but against delaying the individual mandate,” a senior Republican leadership aide said in a statement. “The administration’s position is intellectually and morally indefensible — and this week, we’ll see how many Congressional Democrats agree.”

“[It’s] perfectly appropriate to point out the hypocrisy of the Obama administration in delaying the employer mandate but not the individual mandate,” said Heritage Action for America Communications Director Dan Holler, who like others suspects that Democrats will break from their party to back the employer mandate delay but vote against efforts to stall the individual mandate.

The White House, meanwhile, contends that any effort to stop the individual mandate is simply another version of repeal, with Press Secretary Jay Carney noting Monday that the individual mandate is what enables people with pre-existing conditions to get coverage.

But for some Democrats, mainly those who remain in the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, it won’t be that tough of a decision: Democratic leaders have given up on strong-arming many of those members to vote with them, and the members have, in turn, stopped caring about alienating their top brass.

For others, it represents a dilemma that puts them in between the two parties and could end up causing them trouble no matter how they vote.

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