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Harkin laughs off “willfully ignorant” remark

(Radio Iowa) – Democratic Senator Tom Harkin is laughing off an assertion White House spokesman Jay Carney made Wednesday about critics of the Obama Administration’s decision to delay the requirement that large businesses provide health insurance for full-time employees, or pay a penalty.

Here’s what Carney said yesterday: “People who suggest that there’s anything unusual about the delaying of a deadline in the implementation of a complex and comprehensive law are, you know, deliberately sticking their heads in the sand or are just willfully ignorant about past precedent.”

Harkin argues the administration doesn’t have the authority to delay that requirement and this morning a reporter asked Harkin about Carney’s remark.

“Well I may be ignorant, but not willfully so,” Harkin replied, laughing. “No, I think people make a mountain out of a molehill about what people say and things like that.”

Harkin told reporters this isn’t the first time in his 39-year career in congress that he’s disagreed with the way Democrats or Republicans in the executive branch implement a law.

“But I want to make it very clear…that this does not in any way mess up what is the single most important part of the Affordable Care Act and that is getting the exchanges that will be up and running and getting individuals signed up starting on October 15th of this year,” Harkin said. “…That’s a lot more important, quite frankly in my view, than the employer mandate.”

Republicans believe the delay gives them another opening to attack Democrats in 2014 for supporting the Affordable Care Act. Harkin laughs at that as well.

“To get it to work right, the Obama Administration postponed the employer mandate a year. You would think the Republicans would be applauding that and no they’re attacking it,” Harkin said during a telephone conference call with reporters, laughing. “They can’t seem to make up their minds if they want to implement it or not implement it. They just want to oppose it for opposition’s sake.”

Republicans argue if businesses that fail to provide insurance to full-time workers won’t get penalized, it’s unfair to start enforcing another part of the bill that will penalize individuals who lack health insurance. Harkin said delaying that mandate for individuals would be a “dagger to the heart” of the Affordable Care Act.

“If you don’t have the individual mandate…it’s the same old story: people will tend to put off and put off and put off and then when they get sick…they’ll try to get insurance,” Harkin said. “…It’s like car insurance. I’ve had car insurance my whole life and I don’t have wrecks, but I still have car insurance because I might have a wreck.”

Harkin is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Committee, the panel that helped draft the Affordable Care Act.