Republican leaders boasted about the changes in unveiling the year-end package, which came despite opposition from the White House. But they were able to secure their inclusion because many congressional Democrats also wanted the taxes gone out of fear that the Cadillac levy, in particular, would lead to higher premiums and more angry constituents. And it’s their support for the delays that has caused consternation among conservatives.
Take Heritage Action, the hardline political arm of the conservative D.C. think tank. Heritage has fought the health-care law at every turn and opposes the taxes on principle, but the group has criticized the two-year delay in the “Cadillac tax” precisely because it could make Obamacare more politically palatable and thus, harder to fully repeal. “The Cadillac tax is a political nightmare of epic proportions for a party that claims to represent the people,” wrote Michael Needham, Heritage’s CEO, in a piece published earlier this week.
There is no reason for Republicans to leave Obamacare’s foundation in place during any future effort to enact health care reform. And despite what some Republicans may argue, a delay of the Cadillac tax would not undermine Obamacare, nor would it make full repeal more likely come 2017. If any of those things were a possibility, President Barack Obama would have issued an immediate veto threat. Instead, Obama left the door open to signing a delay.
Conservatives should therefore be skeptical of any such changes that look to delay bad provisions of Obamacare and aim to move in the opposite direction.
It’s telling that earlier in the debate over the tax extenders package (likely to serve as the vehicle for delay of the Cadillac tax), there was also talk about providing additional funding for health insurance industry “risk corridor” bailouts. This is yet another example of policies Republicans need to oppose.
Republicans will be on firmer ground in considering health policy changes by internalizing this principle: If it stabilizes Obamacare or pays off special interests at taxpayer expense, it is bad policy.
Another conservative group, FreedomWorks, often opposes the Republican leadership and criticized the $1.15 trillion spending package. But it hasn’t taken a position on the tax bill that includes the Obamacare delays. “We’re a little ambivalent on that one,” said Josh Withrow, the group’s legislative affairs manager. He said he agreed with Heritage’s analysis of the political dynamic but that “it’s hard to ever be terribly unhappy about a provision that will actually have the effect of saving a ton of people from their premiums spiking even higher. The Cadillac tax would have caused people a lot of real pain.”
Still, Withrow said that like Heritage, FreedomWorks was “very careful not to get too excited about provisions that would potentially strengthen the law by merely removing its worst parts.”