Let the Democrats sleep in the Obamacare bed sooner rather than later

Yuval Levin directs attention to a story in today’s New York Times which begins:

Unable to meet tight deadlines in the new health care law, the Obama administration is delaying parts of a program intended to provide affordable health insurance to small businesses and their employees — a major selling point for the health care legislation.

Levin advises us to get used to the first 11 words of that sentence.

I don’t doubt that many Obamacare deadlines are tight, considering the ambition of the legislation. But I also wonder whether some deadlines will be missed for political reasons.

Implementation of Obamacare is likely to make it less, not more, popular. For example, higher premiums just don’t go over very well, for some reason. Levin doesn’t exaggerate much when, looking ahead to 2014, he speaks of a possible “meltdown of American health care during a congressional election year.”

A meltdown in 2015 or 2016 would, of course, hurt the Democrats’ chances of electing a president. But Obama probably isn’t worried about that right now. His legacy depends to a significant extent on winning solid congressional majorities in the 2014 election. Implementation of Obamacare probably won’t be be helpful in this regard.

Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru have argued that Congress should support legislation that pushes back implementation of the entire Obamacare law by at least a year. After all, much delay will occur with or without legislation permitting it. And delay would, in Levin’s words, allow Republicans “to further develop and articulate their alternatives, and allow another election to intervene earlier in the rollout process, making a replacement more plausible.”

I think I would prefer that Republicans not support legalizing delay. The more of Obamacare that is implemented soon, the better it’s likely to be for Republicans in 2014. And Republicans may get some mileage from the Democrats’ inability to implement certain provisions within the period mandated by their law. If Republicans agree to delay, that argument is basically off the table.

Nor would holding the administration’s feet to the fire leave Republicans bereft of ammunition for 2016. The pain Obamacare is likely to inflict will be more acute by then in almost any scenario.

If the economy chugs along in okay shape and no major unexpected event occurs in the next 19 months, Obamacare could be among the very most important issues in the 2014 election. Republicans don’t need more time to “further develop their alternatives.” In my view, they mainly need to let as much of the Obamacare drama to play out as possible.

The Democrats made this bed. Republicans should not cooperate in pushing back their bed time.

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