Does the president own Obamacare?

If House Republicans had somehow erased chunks of the Affordable Care Act — the employer mandate, the ability to screen who gets subsidies and the annual cap on out-of-pocket costs for a year — the Democrats would have blasted those moves as unconscionable acts of sabotage. But the GOP didn’t sneak in those changes. President Barack Obama did.

The New York Times reported this week that the administration didn’t even announce its decision to delay a cap on copayments in many health care plans. “The grace period has been outlined on the Labor Department’s Web site since February, but was obscured in a maze of legal and bureaucratic language that went largely unnoted,” the Times reported.

Democrats argue that because Republicans don’t like Obamacare, they shouldn’t complain when the White House delays provisions.

This week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius slammed Republicans who want to overturn Obamacare. She said: “It was passed and signed three years ago. It was upheld by the Supreme Court a year ago. The president was re-elected. This is the law of the land.”

OK, then, who made Obama king, and how does he get to override a law passed by Congress?

Now, I don’t agree with the GOP rump that is willing to risk shutting down the federal government in an unwinnable bid to defund Obamacare, but at least those Republicans are trying to defund Obamacare through the legislative process. Obama didn’t bother.

At a news conference Friday, Fox News’ Ed Henry asked Obama, “If you pick and choose what parts of the law to implement, couldn’t your successor down the road pick and choose whether they’ll implement your law and keep it in place?”

The president and former constitutional law professor answered that “in a normal political environment,” it would be easier to call up the speaker of the House to introduce technical changes into the law. But there is no normal on Obamacare, Obama continued, and besides, he has executive authority to make the change.

David Applegate, legal affairs adviser for the right-leaning Heartland Institute, disagrees. The Constitution clearly stipulates that Congress has the power to write laws, which the president must faithfully execute. What would be the response, Applegate asked, if a “President Romney” simply announced that he wasn’t going to administer Obamacare?

Though the president calls his delays tweaks, they are also an admission that the Affordable Care Act is not particularly workable.

The employer mandate discourages job creation and encourages employers to cut back employees’ weekly hours. The lowering of verification standards for subsidies is a backdoor way to buy the business of young people who otherwise might not qualify. Delaying the copayment cap should keep health care premiums from shooting up in 2014.

These delays, however, don’t fix the inevitable problems; instead, they string out the gloom of uncertainty that has cast a pall over the American economy. They just put off the day of reckoning until 2014, a midterm election year. So what do you think the president will do then?

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com

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