October 26, 2013

JAMES TARANTO: Delaying From Behind: Bowing to the inevitable, Democrats think the unthinkable.

Our younger readers–those who were born yesterday–may not remember when delaying ObamaCare was considered a wild idea, its exponents limited to crazy right-wing terrorists. Times have certainly changed since–oh, the beginning of this week. “Democrats facing difficult reelection campaigns in 2014–Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Begich of Alaska–came out on Wednesday evening in support of extending the open enrollment period of the law, as first proposed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who is also up for reelection in 2014,” Politico reports. All these senators were elected or re-elected in 2008, when Barack Obama topped the ticket.

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia isn’t up for re-election until 2018, but he is proposing a bill “to delay for a year the individual mandate’s enforcement mechanism–a $95 fine for anyone who doesn’t enroll in health insurance by March 31.” (That’s an incomplete description, for reasons we’ll get to below.)

The Obama administration itself “confirmed to The Washington Post a little bit ago that it is indeed tweaking the way the individual mandate works,” writes Sarah Kliff of the Post’s Wonkblog. This change amounts to a six-week delay: People who’ve enrolled in a health-insurance plan by March 31 won’t be subject to the mandate tax. The previous requirement was that one had to be covered by March 31, which as a practical matter meant the deadline for enrollment was Feb. 15.

“It’s not quite right to describe this as a delay of the individual mandate, or an extension of open enrollment,” Kliff writes. She’s correct on the latter point–enrollment still ends March 31–but mistaken on the former. Because of Chief Justice John Roberts’s convoluted construction of the law, the “mandate” is nothing more than the tax on noncompliance–a tax that will now be imposed six weeks later than had been the administration’s intent.

A six-week delay, or even a year’s delay, isn’t much. But it is something, which makes it a significant change from the Democrats’ previous position, which was to insist that no concessions were acceptable. Of course it’s easier to hold out when the party demanding concessions is a political adversary as opposed to reality itself.

But it’s also easy to lose sight of reality when focused on political adversity. A quote in today’s New York Times illustrates that point beautifully. It seems that in the days immediately before HealthCare.gov’s disastrous launch, “top White House officials were excitedly briefing lawmakers, reporters, Capitol Hill staff members and Washington pundits” about the “shiny new Web site that was elegantly designed, simple to use and ready.”

It’s Potemkin villages all the way down.

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