The Note: Obamacare Interrupted

Credit: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES: Implementation of the employer health-care mandate, one of the most vaunted provisions in President Obama's health care law, will be put off for a full year, the administration announced late yesterday, ABC's CHRIS GOOD reports. In passing the Affordable Care Act, Democrats included - and promoted - the requirement that companies with 50 or more employees will have to provide health coverage to their employees, or face fines. That was supposed to begin in 2014, but the U.S. Treasury announced that the requirement won't be implemented until 2015. Businesses had voiced "concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively," Assistant Treasury Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur wrote on Treasury's website, and the administration is giving them another year in response to those concerns.
  • OBAMACARE AT THE BALLOT BOX: The delay will likely fuel criticism of the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have said is overly burdensome on employers and as a whole will be difficult to implement. In delaying the employer requirement, the administration will push it past an important political deadline: the 2014 midterm elections. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act is expected to be a topic of discussion in campaigns over the next few years, but Democrats running for House and Senate in 2014 won't have to answer questions about a newly applied employer mandate.
  • WHITE HOUSE WEIGHS IN - 'WE ARE LISTENING': "We are on target to open the Health Insurance Marketplace on October 1 where small businesses and ordinary Americans will be able to go to one place to learn about their coverage options and make side-by-side comparisons of each plan's price and benefits before they make their decision," Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president who oversees the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs wrote on the White House blog last night. "As we implement this law, we have and will continue to make changes as needed. In our ongoing discussions with businesses we have heard that you need the time to get this right. We are listening."
  • UNDER THE RADAR: Another significant delay to a key piece of Obamacare went largely unnoticed when it was announced last month, ABC's DEVIN DWYER notes. The administration said it was delaying by one year parts of the "Small Business Health Options Program" - a key selling point for the health care law that would provide many workers at small businesses a choice of insurance plans. Instead, for the next year, small business employees in states where HHS manages exchanges will be limited to a single plan, chosen by the employer. "We have serious concerns that [health insurance] issuers would not be operationally ready to offer [health plans] through the SHOP if we implemented employee choice for 2014," HHS wrote in the final regulation last month.


ABC's RICK KLEIN: Who would have guessed that the most damaging blow to the Obama health care law would come from inside the Obama administration? The pre-holiday announcement undercuts cavalier assurances that the law is ready to be implemented; one announcement that three years haven't been enough to get a piece of it done within another six months takes care of that. Yes, this is listening to business concerns, and yes, it conveniently means any electoral fallout from an implemented law will be delayed for another president to deal with. But this is a blow in every conceivable way to the Obama administration - an admission that its signature legislative accomplishment isn't ready for prime time, just as the law's critics have been arguing, and arguing.

ABC's JEFF ZELENY: President Obama will be on the final lap of his presidency by the time a key provision of his signature health care law takes effect. The administration's decision to delay until 2015 the mandate for big employers validates an argument critics have been making for years: Obamacare was misguided and is collapsing under its own weight. It's a victory for business groups that have been complaining they can't meet the deadline. But is the administration opening the door to further delays? Republicans now have new ammunition to make their case. And the decision could affect another item on Obama's legacy wish list: immigration. Health care is already a top example critics cite as a warning sign in the immigration debate. This could bolster their case.

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Back in 2011 it was Rick Santorum who was saying Mitt Romney couldn't be a viable candidate because his health care plan was a precursor to Obamacare and it looks like, according to the Washington Post's Dan Balz's new campaign book, Mitt Romney may have had some hesitations as well. In the spring of 2011, when Romney's campaign was still in the exploratory phase, he was preparing a speech in his home state of Michigan to defend his plan. The Wall Street Journal released an op-ed the same day bashing it. Romney's eldest son, Tagg, told Balz his dad called him and left a message saying: "I'm going to tell them I'm out…He said there's no path to win the nomination." Romney then confirmed the hesitations to Balz: "I recognized that by virtue of the realities of my circumstances, there were some drawbacks to my candidacy for a lot of Republican voters," Romney told Balz in January. The book also reports new information about that family vote we've heard so much about. While we knew before that only wife, Ann and son Tagg voted 'yes,' Romney should run for president again, what we didn't know is that along with ten of his other family members, Romney too voted against taking the plunge once again. All of which is extraordinary when you think about the preparations he made for another White House bid after losing the Republican primary in 2008.


'NO GIRLS ALLOWED': IRAQ WAR VET REP. TULSI GABBARD ON OPENING COMBAT MISSIONS TO WOMEN. Ask Rep. Tulsi Gabbard why she supports the military's new policy to allow women to serve in combat roles, and the Iraq war veteran speaks from experience. "I can tell you during my deployment, there were missions that I- volunteered for and was not allowed to go on, simply because I'm a woman," Gabbard, D-Hawaii, tells Top Line's RICK KLEIN. "They said, 'Sorry, no. No girls allowed.'" Gabbard served in combat in Iraq and says the military's policy shift is much more than symbolic. "What we see in the policy change now…is just a reflection of what women have already been doing in the military," she says. "And it'll now open those doors so that we can have women serving in positions of leadership and within units where previously they were not allowed." Gabbard also brings a first-hand perspective to the issue of sexual assault in the military, saying she "heard and saw incidents" of sexual assault within her military camp when she was in Iraq. For more of the interview with Gabbard, and to hear why she says sexual assault is undermining the military's values, check out this episode of Top Line.

NEW POLL: CRITICISM OF VOTING RIGHTS RULING; PARTISAN SPLITS ON GAY MARRIAGE. Americans across racial groups are critical of the Supreme Court's ruling on the Voting Rights Act, with disapproval of the decision exceeding approval by 15 percentage points among whites as well as by a vast 45-point margin among African-Americans. Overall, just 33 percent of Americans approve of the ruling dismantling a key element of the voting law, while 51 percent disapprove (leaving 15 percent unsure). Among blacks, disapproval of the ruling soars to 71 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, according to ABC's GARY LANGER. The high court's rulings on gay marriage last week are more popular, particularly its decision providing married same-sex couples with the same federal benefits as other married couples: Americans approve by 56-41 percent, with sharp partisan and ideological divisions. That's very similar to views in recent ABC/Post polls on whether same-sex marriage should be legal. It's a closer 51-45 percent division on the second gay marriage case, a procedural decision that let stand a lower court ruling allowing gay marriage in California. Again the result is sharply partisan: Six in 10 Democrats and independents approve; just three in 10 Republicans agree. MORE DETAILS FROM THE POLL:


REALITY CHECK AWAITS IMMIGRATION BILL IN HOUSE. The second act of the immigration debate is starting as a sharp reality check on the first, with House leaders bluntly declaring that they have no intention of being influenced by the Senate's strong support of the bill last week, ABC's JEFF ZELENY reports. "We shouldn't feel pressured by the Senate, the president or anyone else," Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told an audience at a town meeting here Tuesday night. "Getting it right is more important than passing a bill." His sentiment drew booming applause from a crowd at the Lynchburg Public Library, where objections to the sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration system were voiced loudly. He listened as several voters rose from their seats, smiling when one man said: "This immigration bill stinks to high heaven!" While the Senate spent most of June making its case on the immigration bill, the month of July belongs to the House, where the debate will start taking shape next week. It is already unfolding as a rebuttal to the Senate, making clear the outcome of the immigration measure is deeply uncertain. "The Senate bill, in my opinion, repeats the mistakes made by the Congress in 1986," Goodlatte said. "It gives 11 million people a legal status almost immediately."

THE SCENE - 'SHE BEGAN TO CRY': On a rainy evening, more than 100 people turned out to hear Goodlatte and ask questions about the IRS controversy, the investigation into the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the NSA surveillance programs. He and other members of Congress are spending the week taking the pulse of their constituents during a week-long break from Washington. But it was immigration that drew the most intense exchange here in Lynchburg, particularly as the 90-minute town meeting drew to a close and the congressman called on a young woman seated near the front. Dulce Elias, a 16-year-old junior at Harrisonburg High School, said she had been living in the United States since the age of 3 and worried that she and her parents would be deported. She said they are undocumented immigrants - two of the estimated 11 million living and working in the U.S. As she told her story, she began to cry. The congressman listened patiently throughout and thanked her for having the courage to attend the meeting and speak. "Someone who was brought here by someone else at age 3 has not done anything wrong and I want you to know that," Goodlatte said, standing a few feet from the young woman. "As part of solving this overall problem, people like you should be addressed. But I do think we have to do it differently than the Senate did."

GEORGE W. BUSH 'HOPEFUL' FOR DEMOCRACY DESPITE EGYPT'S PROTESTS. Former President George W. Bush called the massive protests playing out in the streets of Egypt an "evolution" in the country's march toward mature democracy. "Democracies take a while to take root," Bush said in an interview with ABC's JONATHAN KARL in Tanzania. "I mean, look at our own country. Took a hundred years to get rid of slavery. Democracy requires a patient hand. Democracy requires the building of civil society." Egypt has been roiled by unrest as tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Cairo calling for the resignation of President Mohammed Morsi, whom they blame for not dealing with the country's economic problems since taking office last year. Bush said the protests and tumult is only a symptom of Egypt's progress. "They had been snuffed out of the political process, and all of a sudden they've been now given a chance," the former president said. "And I find it instructive that the current leaders campaigned on a platform, and now the Egyptian people are trying to hold them to account."

BUSH BACKSTORY: Bush sat for an interview while in Tanzania just hours after he and President Obama had come together for a rare (and largely coincidental) meeting of two presidents on foreign soil to jointly lay a wreath in honor of those killed in an al Qaeda bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania in 1998, ABC's ABBY PHILLIP notes. The two presidents had nothing but praise for each other, but there was no policy talk, Bush said. "We just chatted about his trip. He's at the end of the trip. I remember how tired I used to get, and I said, "You've got to be kind of worn out." He said, well, he's had a great trip, looking forward to getting back home," Bush said. "And I asked him about his little girls; were they having a good time? He said, "You bet."

MICHELLE OBAMA ON THE 'PRISON ELEMENTS' OF THE WHITE HOUSE. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Tuesday to highlight the role of first ladies, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama sat down together to dish on their husbands and share the realities of constant public scrutiny, tellingABC's COKIE ROBERTS that there's no preparation for life in the White House, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports. Michelle Obama said first ladies have "probably the best jobs in the world" because their husbands, "who have to react and respond to crisis on a minute-by-minute basis … come into office with a wonderful, profound agenda, and then they're faced with the reality. On the other hand, we [first ladies] get to work on what we're passionate about." "I think that that's something that I would encourage all first ladies to never lose sight of. You have an opportunity to speak to your passions and to really design and be very strategic about the issues you care most about. And I just found it just a very freeing and liberating opportunity," Obama said in Dar es Salaam, where she and the former first lady are attending the George W. Bush Institute's first annual African First Ladies Summit. The summit brought together about 10 first ladies from across Africa. Roberts mentioned that the nation's first first lady, Martha Washington, had written a letter to her niece, saying, she felt like a "Chief State Prisoner." Asked by Roberts whether she can identify, Obama, laughing, said, "There are prison elements to it. But it's a really nice prison. … You can't complain. But there is definitely elements that are confining."

INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL APOLOGIZES TO CONGRESS FOR 'CLEARLY ERRONEOUS' TESTIMONY. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper apologized to Congress in a letter released yesterday for giving a "clearly erroneous" answer to a question about whether the government collects data on millions of Americans, ABC's ABBY PHILLIP writes. "My response was clearly erroneous - for which I apologize," Clapper wrote in a letter to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. The letter came after Clapper was accused of lying in response to a question by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., about whether the National Security Agency collects "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans." In his March testimony, Clapper answered "no," later adding, "not wittingly." It was later revealed that the NSA does collect "metadata" from telephone and Internet companies on millions of Americans - information that reveals information like the time, date and phone numbers of telephone calls, not the content of those calls.


"DAN BALZ'S 'COLLISION: 2012' DETAILS ROMNEY'S HESITATION ABOUT PRESIDENTIAL BID," by the Washington Post's Sean Sullivan. "Mitt Romney wasn't always sold on running for the White House a second time, according to a soon-to-be-released book about the 2012 presidential campaign by The Washington Post's Dan Balz. The book details the Republican's early opposition to the idea and his later consideration of pulling the plug on his nascent bid. In the exploratory phase of his campaign in May 2011, Romney was preparing one morning to deliver a speech in Michigan to defend the health-care plan he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts and to attack President Obama's health-care law. The Wall Street Journal released a scathing op-ed that day criticizing Romney for his Massachusetts plan. Romney's eldest son received a message from his father early that day, he told Balz. "'I'm going to tell them I'm out,' " Tagg Romney recalled his father saying. "He said there's no path to win the nomination." Romney confirmed after the election that he called his son one morning to tell him he thought he wasn't going to run. "I recognized that by virtue of the realities of my circumstances, there were some drawbacks to my candidacy for a lot of Republican voters," he told Balz. "One, because I had a health-care plan in Massachusetts that had been copied in some respects by the president, that I would be tainted by that feature. I also realized that being a person of wealth, I would be pilloried by the president as someone who, if you use the term of the day, was in the '1 percent.' " … The book, titled "Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America," is due out Aug. 6. It details the 2012 White House race through Election Day and its aftermath."


"'CHASING THE HILL' CREATOR TO RUN FOR CONGRESS," by The Hill's Judy Kurtz. "The creator and co-executive producer of a fictional show about life on Capitol Hill is throwing his hat in the real-life political ring himself, announcing exclusively to ITK that he's running for Congress in California's 33rd congressional district. Brent Roske is the man behind 'Chasing the Hill,' the buzz-producing Web series that stars 'West Wing' alums Richard Schiff, Melissa Fitzgerald,Robin Weigert and Matthew Del Negro. While the show, which premiered online last year, follows a California Democrat's House reelection campaign, Roske is running in the 2014 election as an Independent for Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) seat. "I've actually thought about running for office for a long time … Making 'Chasing the Hill' was pretty much my way of trying to get this out of my system,' Roske told ITK in a phone interview."


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