March 29 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama is “picking and choosing” how the 2010 health-care law will be implemented and “doesn’t have the flexibility” legally to do so, U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers said.
Asked if she was saying such changes to the law are illegal, McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington state, replied, “Yes, I am.”
The administration has repeatedly pushed back deadlines and adjusted rules to smooth the rollout of the law, Obama’s top domestic initiative. The latest change came this week, when people were allowed more time to enroll in government health- care exchanges if they began the process before the deadline, a move that opens the chance for more last-minute enrollees.
McMorris Rodgers said in a meeting with Bloomberg editors and reporters in New York yesterday that uncertainty over implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is preventing businesses from planning. Obamacare rules “keep changing from week to week,” she said.
Phil Schiliro, the White House adviser overseeing the law’s implementation, called the idea that Obama is acting illegally with the changes “completely wrong.”
The extension of the signup date beyond March 31 was necessary to ensure that people wouldn’t fail to get insurance after starting an application, he said. Allowing that to happen would be a “nonsensical result,” he said.
“All we are doing is what we do on Election Day,” Schiliro said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “If you’re lined up, you get to vote.”
McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, said party lawmakers are developing a plan that would replace the 2010 law, which they’ve voted more than 50 times to repeal or revise since taking control of the House in 2011.
The Republican plan, which may be introduced as soon as April, will include an expansion of health-savings accounts and allow consumers to purchase insurance across state lines. It will also change health-care liability rules, she said.
Culled in part from previous legislation that Republicans have offered, the plan may preserve the health-care exchanges yet ease federal requirements on insurance plans that she said have turned them into a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
“All of this is about providing an individual with more affordable choices within the marketplace to be able to make the best decisions,” McMorris Rodgers said.
The concern about a president “unilaterally deciding what the law is going to be, when he’s going to delay it” adds to Republicans’ apprehension about moving a revision of immigration policy and other major bills to the floor, she said.
Immigration legislation “needs to be done at the right time, and so whether or not we can get to where we need to be this year is still to be determined,” she said.
Republican House leaders have rejected acting on a bill the Senate passed last year and instead rolled out a list of principles on the immigration issue at a party retreat earlier this year.
The Republican alternative, which includes increased border security, doesn’t have enough votes within the party’s House caucus to pass without Democratic support, she said.
In plotting their legislative strategy, House leaders also are looking at changes the 2014 election may bring to the Democratic-controlled Senate, she said. Several analysts, including Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, currently favor the Republicans to pick-up the six seats they need to gain a Senate majority.
“That’s all part of the consideration,” she said.
Control of the Senate may hinge in part on Republican candidates being able to run well among women voters in North Carolina and Louisiana, where female Democratic incumbents are defending their seats in races polls show will be close.
Republican Mitt Romney carried both states in the 2012 presidential election. Crucial to Obama’s re-election, though, was that nationally he outpaced Romney among women voters by 11 percentage points, according to exit polling.
McMorris Rodgers said Republicans will need to take lessons from the 2012 campaign, in which some of the party’s Senate candidates didn’t connect well enough with women voters.
The party has suffered from “how we have allowed ourselves to be branded and defined by our opponents,” she said, pointing to Democratic accusations that Republicans were conducting a “war on women.”
“It was very detrimental and very costly” when candidates such as former Republican Representative Todd Akin of Missouri said “legitimate rape” victims rarely get pregnant, she said.
“It fed that narrative, and it was very damaging.”
Akin, leading in polls before his comment about rape, lost to the Democratic incumbent, Senator Claire McCaskill.
Republicans have held training sessions for male candidates who may run against women opponents. When speaking to women voters, “tone matters for the Republicans,” McMorris Rodgers said.
--With assistance from Nicholas Johnston, Alex Wayne and Phil Mattingly in Washington.