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September 26, 2013 1:04 PM Manchin Pre-Defected on Obamacare

By Ed Kilgore

Expect to hear cries of joy from Republicans, and probably toasts to his “statesmanship” from some MSM types, at Sen. Joe Manchin’s statement today that he sees nothing particularly wrong with an appropriations (or presumably a debt limit) bill that delays implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate for a year.

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

Before anyone gets excited about Manchin’s “defection,” it’s important to remember (a) he was not in the Senate when the Affordable Care Act was enacted, (b) when campaigning for the Senate in 2010 he renounced his earlier support for Obamacare, and (c) when campaigning for a full Senate term in 2012, he greeted the U.S. Supreme Court’s validation of the individual mandate by saying the mandate “doesn’t make sense to West Virginians.”

Best I can tell, Manchin favors a thousand-year delay in implementation of the individual mandate. So of course he’s all for a one-year delay. And I’ll bet he’s for one even more avidly when he’s asked about the House debt limit bill, since it’s larded with an awful lot of goodies for the fossil fuel industry.

More generally, Manchin seems to be relatively okay with all the unambiguously popular parts of Obamacare—just not the parts that make the whole thing work, like the individual mandate. The only thing arguably worse than a one-year delay in the whole law is a delay in the individual mandate, without which risk pools would shrink and insurance premiums would go up far more than is necessary, in turn making insurance policies less attractive to the young and healthy.

Observers should not, repeat not, treat Manchin as some sort of representative “centrist Democrat” whose lead others are likely to follow. I know a lot of progressives got into the habit of liking the guy after his admirable if unsuccessful leadership on gun purchase background checks. But on health care and on anything even vaguely related to energy and the environment, he’s incorrigible, so his “defection” is anything but; he was already there.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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