When Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., sat down recently for an interview on New Hampshire Public Radio, the conversation quickly turned to President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Kuster said she’s dead set against repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but she agreed that it should be revised -- particularly in areas that affect small businesses.
Kuster said she wants to reexamine guidelines that define a "full-time" work week as being as little as 30 hours, and also supports Obama’s decision to further delay the so-called "employer mandate."
The employer mandate is a provision in the health reform law that requires businesses with 50 or more employees to offer affordable insurance coverage for workers or face penalties.
The federal government was set to begin enforcing that aspect of the law in 2014, but the Obama administration has pushed back the deadline twice, moving it to 2016.
Kuster said delaying the employer mandate will provide an opportunity for New Hampshire’s insurance exchange to get more competition that could drive down costs.
"That’s one reason that I support the president in the delay of the small business mandate for another year," she said. "Get more competition into the New Hampshire marketplace and then we’ll find that there will be insurers that will compete on convenience as compared to cost."
Kuster’s remarks on NHPR drew fire from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which said Kuster’s statement was at odds with her voting record. That’s because in July 2013, Kuster voted against a House bill that called for delaying the employer mandate.
In a blog post, NRCC spokesman Ian Prior wrote that Kuster either lied or has "absolutely no idea what she is voting for."
Kuster did vote against the bill. But does that mean that Kuster has reversed her position on the employer mandate, as NRCC claims?
The politics surrounding any vote on the House floor is complex.
In this case, by the time last year’s vote was held, the Obama administration had already announced it would postpone enforcing the employer mandate for one year. So the vote was essentially symbolic.
The White House’s preemptive move left some House Republicans peeved, since Obama made the change through his executive authority, rather than by going through Congress. In response, House Republican leaders devised a series of showdown votes aimed at driving a wedge between Democrats and the White House.
For instance, Republicans called a vote on delaying the employer mandate, even though the change had already taken place. They also introduced a second bill to delay the health care law’s mandate on individuals to secure health insurance.
Democratic leaders called these measures further attempts to dismantle Obamacare. Obama threatened to veto the bills, specifically calling H.R. 2667 -- the bill delaying the employer mandate -- "unnecessary."
Despite such calls from the Democratic leadership, House Republicans picked up some Democratic support for the measure. It passed, 264-161, with 35 Democrats voting for it. (The bill delaying the individual mandate also passed the House, though with less Democratic support.)
Kuster voted against both bills, saying they undermined implementation of the health care law. But at the time, Kuster didn’t specifically address the merits of delaying the employer mandate.
By contrast, U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter -- another New Hampshire Democrat who voted against both bills -- spelled out her opposition in greater detail.
"H.R. 2667 is unnecessary and redundant because President Obama already delayed the employer responsibility provision for one year; a provision that affects only 4 percent of all businesses in America," Shea-Porter said.
We asked Kuster’s office for the congresswoman’s views on the employer mandate. Spokeswoman Rosie Hilmer said Kuster supported the president’s decision to delay the mandate in 2013, but voted against the Republican bill because it was a "symbolic bill that would not have helped a single business."
"Congresswoman Kuster takes her votes very seriously and addresses bills on their value, so she voted against this unnecessary bill because it was a redundant, meaningless stunt by House Republicans, not a serious attempt to address and fix problems with the law," Hilmer wrote.
Kuster recently said she supports the president’s move to delay the small business mandate for another year, saying the delay would provide more time for the New Hampshire marketplace to develop competition among health plans. Critics say that’s a contrast with her vote against a House bill to delay the employer mandate.
We agree that there is a contrast between those two positions, but there’s also some nuance.
Kuster didn’t say she opposed the bill because she thought that delaying the employer mandate was a bad idea -- a position that would have been a clear contrast with her more recent position. Rather, she voted against it because the bill was symbolic and tantamount to a stunt, since the White House had already delayed that provision of the law.
We rate Kuster’s position on the employer mandate a Half Flip.