Updated 3:49 p.m. | An unusually stern veto threat by President Barack Obama — aimed at a bill codifying his own administration’s health policy — has sparked incredulity from the GOP but may help rank-and-file Democrats faced with a political dilemma.
Republicans had hoped to trap House Democrats today into voting for Obama’s decision to delay the employer health insurance mandate for a year and then against delaying the individual mandate the administration still plans to enforce.
As Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, put it to a Treasury official at a Ways and Means Committee hearing Wednesday morning, why are business owners like Warren Buffett getting a break, but Joe Sixpack isn’t?
But Obama threatened to veto both bills, and the threat was of the “would veto” variety rather than the weasel-worded advisers “would recommend” version. The only reason for the veto threat on the employer mandate delay was that the bill was "unnecessary." That brought a swift reaction from the GOP.
“There is no rational explanation,” said Brendan Buck, spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. “They are simply against everything we do, no matter if it's the president's own policy. I would love for you to ascertain one.”
“Either they are so arrogant to believe they can unilaterally determine which laws to follow or they're full-time residents of Bizarro World,” said Doug Heye, spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Republicans and some legal scholars have ripped the administration for what they consider to be a disturbing trend where the president decides which laws to enforce and which to ignore.
The threat, however, would appear to make House Democratic leaders’ jobs easier as they try to steer their caucus to uphold the individual mandate, which is of course the core of the health care law. Without it, as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has noted, the ban on denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions would be cost-prohibitive.
Carney on Wednesday defended the veto threats and blasted the GOP maneuvering as just another effort to try and undermine the law.
"There are few things more cynical than House Republicans who have made it their mission in life to repeal the Affordable Care Act and deny the American people the benefits that they would receive from implementation of the Affordable Care Act, claiming that they are concerned about the delay of the implementation of a relatively small provision within the Affordable Care Act," Carney said. "You know that. I know that. Everybody in this room knows it. Everybody on the Hill knows it. Most of the American people understand that."
Still, rank-and-file Democrats can now perhaps find it easier to simply vote no on both bills rather than putting themselves in the tricky position of being both for and against the mandates.
A Democratic leadership aide said that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California did not ask the White House for the veto threats to help with the whip count but confirmed Democrats are whipping against both bills.