The Senate Finance Committee’s ranking member is not amused.
The Senate Finance Committee’s ranking member is not amused.
In this November 16 op-ed, Jonathan Adler and I explain how the Obama administration is trying to save ObamaCare (“the Affordable Care Act”) by creating tax credits and government outlays that Congress hasn’t authorized. (The administration describes this “premium assistance” solely as tax credits.) This week, the administration tried to reassure everybody that no, they’re not doing anything illegal.
The statute includes language that indicates that individuals are eligible for tax credits whether they are enrolled through a State-based Exchange or a Federally-facilitated Exchange. Additionally, neither the Congressional Budget Office score nor the Joint Committee on Taxation technical explanation of the Affordable Care Act discusses excluding those enrolled through a Federally-facilitated Exchange.
And here is how HHS tried to dismiss the issue (emphasis added):
The proposed regulations issued by the Treasury Department, and the related proposed regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, are clear on this point and supported by the statute. Individuals enrolled in coverage through either a State-based Exchange or a Federally-facilitated Exchange may be eligible for tax credits. …Additionally, neither the Congressional Budget Office score nor the Joint Committee on Taxation technical explanation discussed limiting the credit to those enrolled through a State-based Exchange.
These statements show that the administration’s case is weak, and they know it.
When government agencies say that a statute indicates they are allowed to do X, or that their actions are supported by that statute, it’s a clear sign that the statute does not explicitly authorize them to do what they’re trying to do. If it did, they would say so. (A Treasury Department spokeswoman offers a similarly worded rationale.)
In our op-ed, Adler and I explain why the statutory language to which these agencies refer does not create the sort of ambiguity that might enable the IRS to get away with offering premium assistance in federal Exchanges anyway. (Nor does the fact that the CBO and the JCT misread portions of this 2,000-page law create such ambiguity.) That’s because there is no ambiguity in that language. There is only a desperate search for ambiguity because the law clearly says what supporters don’t want it to say.
Finally, the fact that these two statements are so similar shows that the administration considers this glitch to be a serious problem and wants everyone on the same page.
Washington & Lee University law professor Timothy Jost is an ObamaCare supporter and a leading expert on the law. He is also too honest for government service, for he has acknowledged that ObamaCare “clearly” does not authorize premium assistance in federal Exchanges, and that it is only “arguabl[e]” that federal courts will let the administration get away with offering it. (Again, in our op-ed, Adler and I explain why that argument falls flat.)
After reading the administration’s statements, Adler writes, ”If that’s all they got, they should be worried.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s November 2011 poll results on ObamaCare (“the ACA”) are now available. The gist:
After taking a negative turn in October, the public’s overall views on the ACA returned to a more mixed status this month. Still, Americans remain somewhat more likely to have an unfavorable view of the law (44%) than a favorable one (37%).
The survey also finds that individual elements of the law are viewed favorably by a majority of the public. The law’s most popular element, viewed favorably by more than eight in ten (84%) and “very” favorably by six in ten, is the requirement that health plans provide easy-to-understand benefit summaries. Also extremely popular are provisions that would award tax credits for small businesses (80% favorable, including 45% very favorable) and provide subsidies to help some individuals buy coverage (75% favorable, including 44% very favorable), as well as the provision that would gradually close the Medicare doughnut hole (74% favorable, including 46% very favorable) and the “guaranteed issue” requirement that prohibits health plans from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions (67% favorable, including 47% “very” favorable)…
Far and away the least popular element of the health reform law is the individual mandate, the requirement that individuals obtain health insurance or pay a fine. More than six in ten (63%) Americans view this provision unfavorably, including more than four in ten (43%) who have a “very” unfavorable view.
I’ve written about such spin-heavy polls before, including here:
Rather than confront their own errors of judgment, [ObamaCare supporters] self-soothe: The public just doesn’t understand the law. The more they learn about it, the more they’ll like it…
This denial takes its most sophisticated form in the periodic surveys that purport to show how those silly voters still don’t understand the law. (In the mind of the ObamaCare zombie, no one really understands the law until they support it.) A prominent health care journalist had just filed her umpteenth story on such surveys when I asked her, “At what point do you start to question whether ObamaCare supporters are just kidding themselves?”
Her response? “Soon…”
Asking people whether they support the law’s pre-existing conditions provisions is like asking whether they want sick people to pay less for medical care. Of course they will say yes. If anything, it’s amazing that as many as 36 percent of the public are so economically literate as to know that these government price controls will actually harm people with pre-existing conditions. Also amazing is that among people with pre-existing conditions, equal numbers believe these provisions will be useless or harmful as think they will help…
[T]he pre-existing conditions provisions cannot exist without the wildly unpopular individual mandate because on their own, the pre-existing conditions provisions would cause the entire health insurance market to implode.
If the pre-existing conditions provisions are a (supposed) benefit of the law, then the individual mandate is the cost of those provisions. If voters don’t like the individual mandate–if they aren’t willing to pay the cost of the law’s purported benefits–then the “popular” provisions aren’t popular, either.
Or, as Firedoglake’s Jon Walker puts it, ObamaCare is about as popular as pepperoni and broken glass pizza.
See you again next month.
ObamaCare authorizes premium assistance in state-run exchanges (Section 1311) but not federal ones (Section 1321). In other words, states that refuse to create an exchange can block much of ObamaCare’s spending and practically force Congress to reopen the law for revisions.
The Obama administration wants to avoid that legislative debacle, so this summer it proposed an IRS rule to offer premium assistance in all exchanges “whether established under section 1311 or 1321.” On Nov. 17 the IRS will hold a public hearing on that proposal…
Any employer whose employees receive premium assistance through a federal exchange…would have standing to challenge these illegal tax credits and outlays.
Public-interest lawyers could file suit as soon as the IRS rule becomes final and they find an employer that will be harmed. Any firm that doesn’t offer health benefits and that employs lots of full-time, low-skilled, young workers in a state that fails to create an exchange should suffice. A successful challenge would block the law’s employer mandate in that state.
In addition, under the Congressional Review Act, a simple (filibuster-proof) majority vote in each chamber of Congress could send to President Obama’s desk a resolution blocking this IRS rule. Even if Mr. Obama vetoed the resolution (taking personal responsibility for this assault on the rule of law), a future president could still rescind the rule.
According to the IRS notice, the public hearing will take place tomorrow, Thursday, November 17, “at 10 a.m., in the auditorium, Internal Revenue Building, 1111 Constitution Avenue, NW., Washington, DC. Due to building security procedures, visitors must enter at the Constitution Avenue entrance. All visitors must present photo identification to enter the building.” Those interested should consult the IRS notice (p. 50938) for more information.
This morning, as expected, the Supreme Court agreed to take up Obamacare. What was unexpected – and unprecedented in modern times – is that it set aside five-and-a-half hours for the argument. Here are the issues the Court will decide:
In addition to the length of argument, which we can expect to be heard over multiple days in March or April, perhaps the biggest surprise is the Court’s decision to review that fourth issue. There is no circuit split here – in large part because 26 states are already in this one suit – and no judge has yet voted to uphold what also be described as a claim that the federal government is “commandeering” the states to do its bidding. The Court probably took the case precisely because so many states have brought it; that former solicitor general Paul Clement is their lawyer also doesn’t hurt. As a practical matter, this could be a bigger deal than the individual mandate because, while Congress had never before tried an economic mandate, it certainly does attach plenty of strings to the grants it gives states – and the spending power is thought to be even broader than the power to regulate commerce.
In any event, the Supreme Court has now set the stage for the most significant case since Roe v. Wade. Indeed, this litigation implicates the future of the Republic as Roe never did. On both the individual-mandate and Medicaid-coercion issues, the Court will decide whether the Constitution’s structure – federalism and enumeration of powers – is judicially enforceable or whether Congress is the sole judge of its own authority. In other words, do we have a government of laws or men?
Here’s the story, from the Bismarck Tribune:
Angered by a federal health care law that most of them despise, North Dakota House Republicans defeated legislation Thursday to give state officials authority over a health insurance marketing agency that the law requires states to establish.
(Correction: ObamaCare does not require states to create an Exchange.)
They said endorsing state administration of the agency, which is called a health insurance exchange, would be tantamount to approving the federal health reform law itself.
“I certainly am not going to legitimize Obamacare with my vote,” said Rep. Wes Belter, R-Fargo. “We, as a state of North Dakota, need to follow some of the other states who have said no… It is the law, but the fight should not be over.”
Supporters … said Thursday’s vote was the state’s last realistic chance for running its own exchange, since deadlines are looming and the Legislature does not meet again until January 2013…
After a debate that lasted almost two hours, representatives voted 64-30 late Thursday to reject the legislation. All but 10 of the House’s 69 Republicans voted against the bill, while 20 of its 25 Democrats supported it…
Opponents of the bill said they resented the pressure, which they said was caused by unrealistic deadlines in the federal health care law.
Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, compared the situation to high-pressure sales tactics in a used car lot.
“If the federal government was really sincere on trying to reform health care, they wouldn’t have put these artificial dates in,” Kempenich said. “Whenever I’ve seen things that get rushed like this, or they get where you’re pressured like this, usually, they’re full of it, and that’s what this is starting to look like.”
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