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First Thoughts: Perception vs. reality

Health-care law delay is a perception problem for the White House… But the reality is a more nuanced story… A scary situation in Egypt… Looking ahead to next week… And Happy 4th of July!

*** Perception vs. reality: Implementing the health-care law -- given its complexity and sheer magnitude -- was never going to be an easy task, especially with a political opposition ready to pounce on any problem, major or minor. And yesterday’s surprise announcement that the Obama administration was postponing the large employer penalty (and thus employer mandate) produced a political tremor in Washington. But it’s important to distinguish the perception here versus the reality. As a matter of perception, yesterday’s news was a big problem for the White House. The timing was suspicious; it was announced while President Obama was on Air Force One coming back from Africa and right before the July 4 holiday, making it seem like the administration wanted to bury the news. The development enabled every Republican politician to blast out press releases describing the health-care law as a disaster. “This is a clear acknowledgment that the law is unworkable, and it underscores the need to repeal the law and replace it with effective, patient-centered reforms," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. And the announcement of the delay only furthered the impression that the health-care law’s implementation is going to be rocky, producing rough headlines for Democrats over the next year (which just happens to be an election year). When it comes to politics, perception matters -- a lot. And the perception could give political foes the idea they have a chance at stopping the law, which in turn could lead to less cooperation. That’s what the White House has to fear.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Healthcare law supporters rally on the sidewalk outside ongoing legal arguments over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court in Washington March 26, 2012.

*** A perception problem vs. a nuanced reality: But the reality of yesterday’s announcement is a bit different from the perception. For one thing, it doesn’t impact the main parts of the health-care law -- the individual mandate (i.e., the requirement that every American have health insurance) and the exchanges (where uninsured individuals can purchase plans). Those parts aren’t being delayed. Second, the number of employers affected (those who employ 50 or more full-time workers) is relatively small, given that most large employers already provide health insurance to their employees. And third, employers and business groups hailed the decision. The one-year delay was created to simplify business’ reporting process to the Treasury Department and IRS. “This one year delay will provide employers and businesses more time to update their health care coverage without threat of arbitrary punishment,” Neil Trautwein of the National Retail Federation said in a statement, per the Washington Post. “We appreciate the Administration’s recognition of employer concerns and hope it will allow for greater flexibility in the future.” Bottom line: The announcement yesterday was a P.R. black eye for the White House, but the reality is a much more nuanced story.

*** A scary situation in Egypt: Yet here’s a story with very little nuance: Egypt. “As Egypt edged closer on Wednesday to a return to rule by the generals, with a military deadline only hours away for President Mohamed Morsi to cede power, the Egyptian leader and army commanders pledged to spill their blood to achieve their aims, propelling the crisis further toward a showdown,” the New York Times writes. “‘We swear to God that we will sacrifice even our blood for Egypt and its people, to defend them against any terrorist, radical or fool,’ the armed forces said on a military-affiliated Facebook page in a posting titled ‘Final hours.’ It was published shortly after Mr. Morsi delivered an angry, impassioned speech pledging to uphold the legitimacy of the elections that brought him to power last year.” Per NBC’s Charlene Gubash in Cairo, the Egyptian military is supposed to issue a statement at 10:30 am ET.

*** Looking ahead to next week: Finally, we’ll be off Thursday and Friday to celebrate the long July 4th weekend, but we’ll update the blog as news warrants. Here’s a timeline of the stories we’ll be watching for next week. Have a Happy 4th

Monday, July 8: Rick Perry to announce his political plans in San Antonio.
Tuesday, July 9: A possible vote on the anti-abortion legislation in Texas.
Wednesday, July 10: George W. Bush expected to make remarks at his library on immigration during an event called, "What Immigrants Contribute."
Wednesday, July 10: House Republicans meet to discuss immigration reform in a closed-door meeting in the Capitol

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