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Health Mandate Votes Divide Democrats

Republican leaders put two bills on the floor on Wednesday designed to divide Democrats — and at least in part, they succeeded.

Just weeks after the Obama administration’s announcement that it would delay enforcement of the employer health insurance mandate, Republicans scheduled separate votes on a pair of bills, one codifying that announcement and one delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, too.

The bills won 35 and 22 Democratic votes, respectively, culling primarily from the caucus’s moderates, fiscally conservative Blue Dogs, pro-business New Democrats and a handful of 2014 “frontliners.”

The majority of Democratic “yes” votes on both pieces of legislation came from freshmen, who have not yet had a chance to forge a legislative record on Obamacare.

Though President Barack Obama issued a strong veto threat and Democratic leadership whipped “no” votes on both bills, with House Majority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., calling them “not real” and “purely partisan politics,” the measures presented a tempting opportunity: Because the bills called for delays rather than more draconian repeals, many Democrats could comfortably vote to oppose parts of the health care law but not the law itself.

“Every member is gonna do what he or she thinks is important for the people he or she represents back home,” House Democratic Caucus chairman Xavier Becerra,D-Calif., conceded on Wednesday morning.

He added, though, that “if it weren’t for the Tea Party, I suspect we wouldn’t be having this vote.”

Republican leadership aides said in the lead-up to the vote that the decision to put the two bills on the floor separately was intended to put the onus on Democrats to vote not only one of those bills but on both, and to all but compel them to buck their party’s top brass.

“[It] will highlight the hypocrisy of any Democrat who votes for delaying the employer mandate but against delaying the individual mandate,” a senior Republican leadership aide said in a statement. “The administration’s position is intellectually and morally indefensible — and this week, we’ll see how many Congressional Democrats agree.”

Shortly after the final votes on both bills, the National Republican Congressional Committee blasted out an email calling out those 13 Democrats who voted to delay implementation of the employer requirement but not of the individual mandate.

“[They] voted to delay the law’s employer mandate, but then outrageously voted against doing the same for middle-class families,” the NRCC said. “In the months to come, we’re going to hold these Democrats accountable for their shameful vote.”

Though Republican staffers were predicting earlier this week that the votes would put Democrats in a tough spot, Democratic aides in turn were predicting earlier this week that the strategy could actually backfire. A swath of GOP lawmakers on the far right of the conference, they contended, could end up voting against the pair of bills because they wanted votes on full repeal of the health law instead.

But while conservative advocacy groups like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, which take credit for bringing down the first iteration of the farm bill last month, made their positions clear on preferring to dismantle Obamacare rather than simply halt its progress, they did not issue any key votes on the measures.

In the end, on both bills, only one Republican voted “no”: Morgan Griffith of Virginia.

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