For the first time, President Obama has backed moving the new health care law’s waiver for state innovation from 2017 to 2014, when most parts of the affordable care act go into effect. From the New York Times:

Senior administration officials said Mr. Obama would reveal to the National Governors Association in a speech on Monday morning that he backs legislation that would enable states to request federal permission to withdraw from the law’s mandates in 2014 rather than in 2017. The earlier date is when many of the act’s central provisions take effect, including requirements that most individuals obtain health insurance and that employers of a certain size offer coverage to workers or pay a penalty.

The announcement is the first time Mr. Obama has called for changing a central component of his signature health care law, although he has backed removing a specific tax provision that both parties regard as onerous on business. The shift comes as the law is under fierce attack in the courts and from Republicans on Capitol Hill and in statehouses around the country.

The bipartisan amendment that Mr. Obama is now embracing was first proposed in November, eight months after enactment of the Affordable Care Act, by Senators Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts. Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, a Democrat, is now a co-sponsor.

The Wyden-Brown bill to move up the start date is critical to local innovation. As the law is currently designed, if a state wants to try an alternative they would need to go through all the work of setting up the new exchange system only to then repeat all the work and cost of setting up their new alternative just three years later, which is highly impractical.

An earlier state innovation date would be a very helpful to Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin (D), who is trying to adopt a single-payer system in Vermont, but would need one of these state waivers to do so.

A smart move for Obama

With Obama’s health reforms still polling as unpopular, and even majorities of Democrats and supporters of the law opposed to the individual mandate, this is a smart political move for Obama. State waivers create a good “out” for Obama when governors complain about “one-size-fits-all Washington solutions” or the individual mandate by technically giving them the option to replace it with one of many tailored alternatives.

It will be interesting to see if Congressional Republicans actually support this change. While it would technically give many red states the freedom to get rid of some of the provisions they claim are most egregious, it also has a chance of making law less unpopular and less of an easy political weapon in 2012.