White House officials say say they’re not changing the reviled tax on Americans who don’t buy Obamacare’s health plans.
But they are allowing a six penalty-free weeks for Americans who buy the government-designed health-care plans after the old deadline of Feb. 15, and before a different deadline of midnight on March 31. (Related: Obama plans six-week delay of Obamacare mandate)
The officials’ effort to downplay the politically significant change highlights President Barack Obama’s determination to downplay the proliferating problems in his primary accomplishment, the Obamacare health-sector network.
The “individual mandate timing hasn’t changed. Deadline for having insurance is 3/31. Was true this am. Is true tonight,” said an evening tweet from Josh Earnest, the White House’s deputy press secretary.
Media reports of a change were “inaccurate,” said another tweet by Dan Pfeiffer, the “senior advisor to the president for strategy and communications.”
The change, Pfeiffer insisted, “has nothing to do with the [Obamacare] website, its something that had to happen anyway.”
The lengthy and complex Obamacare law grants so much flexibility to regulators and political appointees that White House officials say they have the legal authority to delay the deadline for the tax penalty from Feb. 15 to March 31 without congressional approval.
In 2014, the penalty is $95, or 1 percent of a person’s income, whichever is higher. The fine rises in 2015 and later years.
The six-week delay is important to many Americans because it means they’re not going to be hit by the penalty if they haven’t bought a government health plan by Feb. 15. But they will be fined if they don’t buy the Obamacare package by March 31.
The change was prompted by the collapse of the badly designed Obamacare website.
White House and agency officials are now rushing to redesign and repair the website.
GOP leaders, and some Democratic officials, say the $95 fine should be delayed until the website is operational.
That pitch is important to Democratic legislators facing reelection in 2014. Those politicians, including West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin, have an incentive to make some public push-back against the unpopular law and the very unpopular mandate.
Manchin is already facing a tough race, partly because he voted in June to provide an amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants.