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Democrat Manchin Breaks Ranks to Back Mandate Delay

By Michael C. Bender
September 26, 2013 3:30 PM EDT 99 Comments
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, talks with reporters and editors during a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington.
Photographer: Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, talks with reporters and editors during a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia broke ranks with fellow Democrats and said he’d support a stopgap spending plan that delays the individual mandate in President Barack Obama’s health-care law.

“There’s no way I could not vote for it,” Manchin said at a Bloomberg Government breakfast today. “It’s very reasonable and sensible.”

The individual mandate is the linchpin of the law that requires Americans who lack insurance to purchase health care through government-run exchanges. Republicans, led by a group of newcomers in the House, are pushing to dismantle the health-care law and are using a ticking clock on a possible Oct. 1 government shutdown as leverage.

The Democratic-led Senate will vote in coming days on the stopgap spending plan and before sending it back to the House will remove language that defunds Obamacare. Obama and House Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, have said they won’t support using the budget to change the health law.

Manchin, 66, said he’d be willing to delay the individual mandate as part of the budget negotiations because the Obama administration in July gave businesses an extra year to provide their workers with health insurance.

No Shutdown

In a statement later in the day, Manchin said the individual mandate shouldn’t “be used to shut down the government.”

“I will not vote to shut down the government,” he said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Manchin’s position on the individual mandate “doesn’t change anything.”

A temporary spending plan that delays the requirement “will not pass the Senate, will not become law, but will only draw us closer to a shutdown,” Carney told reporters.

At the breakfast, Manchin said the individual health-insurance rule should be delayed at least a year.

“Don’t put the mandate on the American public right now,” he said. “If you know you couldn’t bring the corporate sector, you gave them a year, don’t you think it’d be fair?”

Manchin also said he’d be willing to negotiate in a debate over raising the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt limit. He said he’d support “efficiencies” in Medicare and Social Security and using most of the savings for debt reduction.

Obama Conflict

“Can’t we agree that we have one hell of a debt here that we’ve got to get a handle on?” Manchin said.

That conflicts with Obama’s stance. The president said today that “I will not negotiate on anything” regarding an increase in the borrowing authority.

“Congress needs to put an end to governing crisis-to-crisis,” Obama said at a Largo, Maryland, community college.

Manchin doesn’t face re-election until 2016. He was elected after the health-care bill passed Congress in 2010, and said his approval rating has dropped about 20 percentage points, to about 47 percent.

“When you get caught in this quagmire, this swamp, if you will of Washington, you’re going to get a little stink on you,” he said.

House Republicans are considering whether to make changes once they get back the stopgap bill and send the measure to the Senate another time. They are mulling a one-year delay in the implementation of the health law’s individual mandate, among other potential changes.

Campus Lobbying

Many of the House Republicans are backed by the limited-government Tea Party movement, which is trying to cripple the law. FreedomWorks, an organization tied to the Tea Party, is targeting college campuses, telling young adults to not sign up for the government-run insurance exchanges scheduled to roll out on Oct. 1.

Americans for Prosperity, a small-government group funded by billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch, is spending almost $1 million on TV ads to do the same.

Postponing the individual mandate would increase premiums and risk coverage for adults with pre-existing coverage, said David Simas, White House deputy senior adviser for communications.

“A delay of the individual requirement results in fewer people having insurance,” Simas said yesterday at the “Inside Politics with Bill Schneider” breakfast at the Third Way, a Washington research group aligned with Democrats.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael C. Bender in Washington at mbender10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net

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