The Obamacare Line-Item Veto?

August 4th, 2013

I previously blogged about the President’s strong desire to allow legislative fixes to Obamacare, and preference for unilateral fixes, through creative executive-branch interpretations. I contended that the President fears opening the bill up to any deliberation–even on an issue where Republicans and Democrats agree, such as offering health benefits to Hill Staffers.

John Graham of the Apothecary views it slightly differently: as a line-item veto to avoid CBO rescoring:

In other words, the CBO will allow the President to line-item veto whichever parts of his signature law he prefers to be rid of. However, this still invites the question of why the President would choose this way to do business.

As noted on June 27, the House Republican majority quickly passed two bills that would have legalized the one-year employer-mandate delay as well as the individual mandate to purchase health insurance (which was the subject of the Supreme Court’s narrow decision preserving Obamacare). The President never intended to relieve individuals from the mandate, only businesses. So,  the President immediately announced a veto threat.

Republican sources tell me that their two  bills would have gone to the Senate in one package. But surely the Democratic-majority Senate could have split them, and forced Republicans to struggle with whether to send the employer-mandate bill alone to the White House. This would have opened them up to the same charges of hypocrisy that they now level against the President.

So, instead of taking opportunities to put Republican legislators on the spot, the President chose the risky course of potentially illegal executive action. The reason can only be that this approach allows him to line-item veto parts of Obamacare without subjecting the changes to CBO scoring that would require “pay fors”. Although the OPM’s decision on staffers’ health benefits is unlikely to have a significant  impact on the costs of Obamacare (maybe $40 million or so a year, according to my back-of-the envelope estimate), the same cannot be said of decisions like the one-year delay of the employer mandate.

If Congress had amended Obamacare to delay the employer mandate, it would have had to find $13 billion of savings from subsidies to health insurers channeled through exchanges, expansion of Medicaid dependency, or other pockets of Obamacare spending. This, of course, would have been intolerable to President Obama. Expect more executive nullification of politically inconvenient parts of Obamacare during the rest of 2013 and 2014.

This may be true, but I continue to believe the Administration wants to avoid, at all costs, any further legislative debates. Remember, the House has voted to repeal Obamacare about 40 times.