Sometimes, it's just fun to take pleasure in saying, I told you so. And I did. When the vast majority of liberal punditry was freaking out that the Supreme Court took up the latest Obamacare challenge by right wing nuts who argue that people buying health insurance in exchanges set up by the federal government (due to the refusal of the respective states to do so) are not eligible for the generous premium subsidies. The thought was that the conservative court could rule in their favor, unraveling the Affordable Care Act forever.
Fat chance, I said. They were unlikely to succeed, and if they did, it would set up a nightmare scenario for Congressional and state Republicans who will be forced to either legislatively accept Obamacare and face the wrath of their base or be responsible for taking away an existing tax credit from millions of red state residents. All Democrats would have to do is offer a one-page bill restoring the subsidies and watch the GOP melt down.
Evidently, Republicans were listening. The GOP leadership appears to be as freaked about the prospect of an anti-ACA Supreme Court ruling as those liberal pundits I spoke of. They have hurried up and cobbled together a bill that would extend those tax credits to the federally run exchanges in case the Supreme Court decides to go with the crazy crowd.
Sen. Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin has filed, and the entire Senate GOP Leadership has joined as cosponsors on, a bill that would extend Obamacare subsidies to federally run exchanges until August 2017 in the case of an adverse Supreme Court ruling.
Now, Johnson's initial bill also contains poison pills for the law, such as repealing its individual and employer responsibility provisions and allowing insurance companies to offer junk insurance. However, the media is noting, correctly, that the move is designed to take the political pulp-beating off the GOP in an election season for being responsible for taking away health coverage from millions and millions of Americans. The GOP leadership's quick endorsement of the Johnson bill indicates that they are worried about the political fallout of their base taking things too far, and that those poison pills will have to eventually be stripped out of the bill as Democrats will not allow for the return to an era of insurance company petulance that existed before the Affordable Care Act, nor will the President sign such a bill into law.
But I don't believe that the timeline in the Johnson bill - namely extending the subsidies only until August 2017 rather than permanently - is just about presidential election politics. It is about that, but it may just as importantly be about two additional considerations - or rather two additional considerations that explain the election season rush:
- First, a plea to the conservatives on the Supreme Court: Please, save us from ourselves! By introducing this bill with full leadership support, Senate Republicans are telling the court to please, please, pretty please uphold Obamacare's subsidies for federal exchanges so they don't have to face the nightmare of the fallout of an adverse ruling at the ballot box.
- Second, a signal to state GOP officials: Get your Obamacare! The bill provides enough time for Republican governors and legislatures to begin to set up their own exchanges, thereby preserving the subsidies for their residents in case the Supreme Court rules against the federal subsidies. In what I am sure is a pure coincidence, they would get to do it just in time for the elections, avoiding, once again, the voter wrath. If all states eventually choose that path, both a potential adverse ruling and Johnson's bill will become moot.
In other words, the Republicans' surrender on the ACA's subsidies is even more glaring than it appears at first glance. If I'm right - and I did tell you this was coming - national Republicans either want the Supreme Court to preserve Obamacare or want their state colleagues to do so.
The president essentially forced this move by declaring that if the right wing's petulance succeeds at the Supreme Court, the administration had no backup plan, and by implication, that Congress was going to have to fix it. Suddenly, the onus went to the people who ran Congress, i.e. Republicans, as the President refused to help these manchildren any further.
And now, they don't know what to do.