On a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, officials at the Department of Health and Human Services insisted that March 31 is the firm deadline to sign up for Obamacare. "We have no plans to extend the open enrollment period," HHS official Julie Bataille said. "In fact, we don't actually have the statutory authority to extend the open enrollment period in 2014."

A reporter followed up, asking why the administration could delay many other parts of the law but not this one. Michael Hash, who directs the Office of Health Reform at HHS, replied that the law states that the HHS secretary must set the open enrollment dates by June 2012, which Secretary Sebelius did. "Once that 2014 open enrollment period has been set, they are set permanently," Hash said. He did not explain why the administration has the authority to ignore other statutory deadlines to implement the employer mandate or cancel private health insurance plans not eligible for "grandfathering."

The president's unilateral delays of various parts of the law has drawn a lot of criticism from Republicans and constitutional experts. "Last week, Obama underlined what this means for our system: The administration unilaterally increased the transition time for individuals to obtain the level of insurance mandated by the Affordable Care Act," George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley wrote in Sunday's issue of the Los Angeles Times. "There is no statutory authority for the change — simply the raw assertion of executive power."

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