Just how will the fight in Congress over health exchange website glitches pan out? EBA spoke with former Capitol Hill staffer Drew Crouch, now director of government relations at Buck Consultants, about potential Republican strategies — and if tax reform that would impact employee benefits might still be on the table for this year.

EBA: How might Congress use their authority to help with the exchange glitches that are plaguing the ACA?

DC: It’s too soon to say what Congress might do in that arena. What we’re looking at is the very beginning of the roll-out. If the problems persist, let’s say after the next six to eight weeks, I think congressional action might be more ripe.

At that time, I think there will probably be a split between the house Republicans and the administration over what should be done. I think the House Republicans are probably taking the position that delay of the individual mandate would be necessary. And I expect the administration to take the position that delay of open enrollment — which is something that can be done without legislation — be the more appropriate remedy there.

EBA: Have Republicans backed off the delay, defund Obamacare mentality?

DC: It’s hard to say. It really goes back to … just how long do these glitches stay with the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act? The way that the debt ceiling compromise and the funding of the government was settled is that they’ll be back up [for discussion] shortly after the New Year: Jan. 15 for government funding and Feb. 7 for the debt ceiling.

It could be, if we have glitches that aren’t resolved in the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, that you might see some of these issues percolating back up again. So for instance, delay the funding of the Affordable Care Act as a condition for funding the government past Jan. 15.

EBA: What are you hearing about the tax reform discussions slated to take place in December and how they might impact employee benefits?

DC: As part of the end of the stalemate over government funding and the debt ceiling, the House and the Senate agreed to appoint conferees for a budget conference, because they’ve had different budgets. So that’s due out Dec. 13. I don’t think that the budget conferees will be able to make much progress over the longer term budget issues. For example, entitlement spending or tax reform. I think they’ll be lucky if they can just address fiscal year 2014.

That said, I do expect the House Ways & Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee to push ahead tax reform, possibly before the end of this year. Chairman [Dave Camp (R-MI)] at Ways & Means has said he’d do that. We don’t know yet, because we haven’t seen the drafts, but there could be a very big impact on employee benefit plans. That’s because employee benefit plans, particularly retirement plans, employer-provided health, rank among the top 10 tax expenditures when ranked by total dollars spent in the internal revenue code. EBA

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