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Obama Gets Last Laugh on Health Law

"Without an enforcement mechanism, there is no mandate. It's just a political talking point."

-- Then-Sen. Barack Obama quoted by NBC News attacking Sen. Hillary Clinton’s health-insurance proposal in a press briefing in Littleton, N.H., Nov. 26, 2007.

With midterm elections shaping up as another disaster for Democrats, President Obama has ordered another delay in the implementation of his signature health law.

And in keeping with his policy and political aims, the president has ordered another helping of dessert before the vegetables are served.

Obama has opted to give employers another year to dump health-insurance for workers before federal penalties built into his 2010 health law go into effect.

This will help keep employment rates more stable as some employers were getting ready to reduce staff or shift workers to part-time status in order to avoid Obamacare penalties. For endangered Senate Democrats who backed the law, like Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, this is a great reprieve.

The actual economic benefits of the delay are less certain as employers are unlikely to change their long-term strategies based on a one-year delay. But it will certainly reduce the number of layoffs.

And create plenty of new customers for the new subsidized, government-run insurance program set to come online in October.

The law, called “the most complex piece of legislation ever passed by the United States Congress” and “beyond comprehension” by one of its principle architects in the Senate, will lead employers facing penalties to lots of different conclusions about what to do under the new regulations and taxes imposed.

For some, it will be cheaper to pay fines and dump workers onto the government program. For others, it will make more sense to offer compliant plans.

But Obama’s move to delay those penalties certainly provides considerable incentive for some companies to get out of the insurance racket altogether, and do it in a hurry. One can expect plenty of workers to hear unhappy news this fall as human resources departments make announcements that rather than the usual “open enrollment,” there will be a workshop for how to sign up for the Obamacare “insurance exchange.”

This is now the pattern with the law. Democrats acknowledge that the implementation is a “train wreck” but are determined to get as many passengers as possible aboard the doomed locomotive.

Why?

Because it’s the only way to get what the Obama Democrats have wanted all along: A government-run system open to all Americans and the eventual demise of the employer-based insurance system that has been the norm since the end of World War II.

If the train wrecks with no one on board, there isn’t much incentive to couple up another locomotive. But, with the help of Hollywood celebrities, librarians, proselytizing school children and paid “navigators,” there will be enough millions of people aboard the Obamacare Express when it runs off the rails, that will forever be afforded passage.

What a cruel irony for Democrats who worked so long and so hard to stitch together the legislation that, though inelegant, represented a fusion of the campaign promises made by Obama and his rival, Hillary Clinton, in 2008.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what Max Baucus, Jay Rockefeller, Ted Kennedy and others crafted. The law, written with massive loopholes, will instead be whatever the president says it is. And now he increasingly says that it’s a “public option” plan, not a “mandate” plan.  

The penalties for firms with more than 50 full-time workers that offer no benefits or benefits deemed insufficient by the administration were originally going to kick in at the start of next year.

The so-called “employer mandate” was always a controversial part of the law. Even proponents of the president’s plan were anxious about economic consequences, but in the “I Love Lucy” chocolate-factory routine that preceded eventual passage, the 50-employee cap was chosen in somewhat arbitrary fashion. Some business lobbyists said they preferred that and bingo, it was law.

Even proponents of the president’s plan were anxious about economic consequences.

But the motive was to reduce taxpayer costs by encouraging more employers to cover more workers or chip in to the collective. The mandate was part of the push by moderate Democrats to prevent the bill from looking like a massive welfare sop and to tout their fiscal probity.

Now, that part of the law is set to commence bringing with it disruption and difficulty. So Obama simply decides that it won’t. Poof.

Remember the president’s demands for what the law would look like included that it would cost less than $1 trillion in the first decade and not increase deficit spending by “a single dime.” That was always a little iffy, but by shifting more workers into subsidized plans and delaying the fines paid by non-compliant employers, those promises are now just silly.

The same will likely prove true for the requirement that individuals purchase insurance or pay a tax. The tax lacks the bite to push people into the private market, certainly for the first couple of years, and it’s easy to see Obama deciding next year or the year after that it ought to be delayed too.

Baucus and Rockefeller, set to retire next year, could have saved themselves a lot of trouble in 2009 and 2010 if they could have instead just written a law that read “Whatever the president wants to do” and been done with it.

But that wouldn’t have passed, so the Obama Democrats stitched together their Frankenstein law, sold it to skeptical moderate Democrats in the Senate and moved on. Baucus and Rockefeller will leave behind as their legacy the creation of universal health insurance as a federal obligation. But how and when is that done? Well, let’s just say that Wilbur Mills’s legacy remains safe.

So here’s the plan:

Push back another painful part of the law beyond the midterm elections, which the president must hope will help him preserve a Democratic majority in the upper chamber. Meanwhile, herd as many people into the new program as possible so as to render it a permanent entitlement.

When the costs balloon and the clinic waiting rooms fill up, Obama can hope to be dealing with Harry Reid, not Mitch McConnell, on how to remedy those problems. And whatever happens, whoever is sworn into office as president in 2017 will be stuck with a rescue operation, not putting their own health insurance train on track.

If that person is Hillary Clinton, she will be forced to impose the plan she decried in 2008 despite the efforts of Senate moderates on behalf of her plan. If it is a Republican, Obama can hope that he or she will be reduced to Tory-tinkering and “innovation” rather than starting fresh.

It may be a terrible mess, and it may lack political courage, but it looks like its working.

The lesson for politicians in this is that arguing details in massive, comprehensive legislation is a fool’s errand.

Members of Congress continue to cede their lawmaking authority to the executive branch rule maker because they would rather not have to vote for what they believe will work but that their constituents will hate. So they pass one thing, and give a wink to the cabinet in the belief that some faceless bureaucrat will do the wet work elected officials despise.

But what happens when the administration doesn’t do what it promised the self-made eunuchs on the Hill? You guessed it: Nothing.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Cynicism is always the right assumption when dealing with this administration.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.