Tag: halbig v. sebelius

WSJ: Dems Nuked Filibuster to Defeat Halbig v. Sebelius

Wall Street Journal editorial surmises that Senate Democrats eliminated the filibuster for non-Supreme Court judicial appointments so they could pack the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit with judges that would block an important ObamaCare case called Halbig v. Sebelius:

Democrats surprised Republicans in November with how quickly they dismantled the filibuster, and we are beginning to see why. Another major challenge to ObamaCare is being heard by a D.C. Circuit district judge, this time concerning whether subsidies can be delivered by the federal exchanges. Then there’s the new IRS proposed rule curtailing the political speech of 501(c)(4) groups. This rule will also probably make its way to the D.C. Circuit, and blocking GOP-leaning groups from politicking is part of the Democratic strategy for holding the Senate in 2014.

Democrats figure they have a better chance to win if they have more nominees on the appeals court—either in a three-judge panel or en banc. The plaintiffs could appeal to the Supreme Court if they lose, but you never know if the Justices will take a case.

Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan H. Adler and I laid the groundwork for Halbig and three other cases challenging President Obama’s attempt to tax Americans without congressional authorization in this law-journal article.

‘There Is No Such Thing as an Individual Mandate. It’s a Tax.’

That’s what Department of Justice attorney Joel McElvain said in open court last week. And thus the Obama administration reversed itself once again on whether the individual mandate is a tax. 

Relatedly, a Clinton-appointed federal judge has dealt a second blow to the IRS and the credibility of its defenders. He called one of the administration’s arguments ‘silly,’ and promised expedited consideration of the Obamacare challenge, Halbig v. Sebelius. Read all about these in my latest Darwin’s Fool post at Forbes.com.

Halbig Plaintiffs Request Preliminary Injunction

Halbig v. Sebelius is one of two federal lawsuits challenging an illegal IRS rule that attempts to issue ObamaCare’s tax credits in the 34 states that have opted not to establish one of the law’s health insurance “exchanges.” Yesterday, attorneys for the Halbig plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, requested a hearing on that motion before October 1, and filed a second motion also seeking to expedite the case. The first motion requests:

an Order enjoining [the government], pending resolution of the litigation, from applying the IRS regulations extending eligibility for premium assistance subsidies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to individuals who purchase health coverage through Exchanges established by the federal government.

If the court grants that request, ObamaCare implementation will come to a screeching halt.

The Halbig plaintiffs make a compelling case that the IRS is violating federal law, and that the court must resolve the issue before January 1, 2014. If a resolution comes after that date, the plaintiffs will be irreparably injured because they “will be forced either to comply with the ACA’s individual mandate or risk incurring a penalty, and…will further be entirely and forever precluded from purchasing catastrophic coverage for 2014.” In addition: 

the balance of the equities and public interest both cut strongly in favor of resolving the legal validity of the IRS Rule now, before billions of taxpayer dollars are illegally expended and before employers make unalterable benefit decisions premised on the Rule. If a ruling invalidating the IRS Rule is delayed until after these events, the result would be utter chaos…It serves everyone’s interests—those of Plaintiffs, the Government, and the public alike—to obtain a prompt ruling on the legal validity of the IRS Rule, so that there will be no need subsequently to confront the logistical nightmare of trying to unscramble and undo the unlawful expenditure of billions of federal dollars. [Emphasis in original.]

Even if the government ultimately prevails, as health-benefits expert Thomas Haynes explains in a supplemental filing, it would unnecessarily and irreparably injure some employers and employees if that happens in 2014 instead of 2013. Brokers who are aware that the availability of these tax credits is uncertain in 34 states will counsel employers not to adjust their employee benefits to take advantage of that still-uncertain new landscape. Those employers and employees would then be locked into spending more on health insurance in 2014 than they would if the litigation had been resolved in 2013. 

The Obama administration, however, is in no hurry. In Halbig, for example, government lawyers have blown through the legal deadlines for responding to key plaintiff motions, deadlines that passed months ago. Indeed, they appear to be using every tactic at their disposal to guarantee these cases will not be resolved this year.

Whether the Obama administration’s lawyers simply have a lot on their plate, or are intentionally trying to prejudice judges against ruling for the plaintiffs – by guaranteeing that such a ruling would result in maximum chaos – a preliminary injunction is in order. 

Guess Who’s One of the Hill’s ‘100 People to Watch This Fall’

I guess I’ll have to tout this myself. Last week, the Hill newspaper put me on its list of “the 100 people you can’t ignore this fall if you’re wondering how events in Congress and the White House will play out.” Here’s the write-up

Michael Cannon Director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute
 
Think the Supreme Court has settled the question of ObamaCare’s legality? Not if Cannon has anything to say about it. Cannon is a tireless advocate for the argument that the IRS has illegally implemented the healthcare law’s insurance subsidies, which will help low-income households cover the cost of their premiums. 
 
His argument is that healthcare law, as written, does not allow for the subsidies to be used in healthcare marketplaces that are set up by the federal government.
 
He helped the state of Oklahoma file a lawsuit against the subsidies, and a group of small businesses filed a separate suit on the same grounds, in case Cannon’s runs into procedural roadblocks.
 
If the lawsuits Cannon has spearheaded are successful, they could have a devastating impact on the healthcare law. A final decision in favor would stop the flow of tax subsidies to people in more than half of the states, making ObamaCare far less attractive to consumers and stripping away much of the law’s promise of affordability.

Corrections and amplifications. The argument is as much Jonathan Adler’s as mine; we develop it together in this law-journal article. The argument is not that the IRS is illegally implementing otherwise lawful subsidies; it is that the IRS is trying to dispense some $700 billion in illegal subsidies that Congress expressly did not authorize, and impose illegal taxes on millions of employers and individual Americans starting in 2014; that the Obama administration is attempting to tax, borrow, and spend nearly $1 trillion without congressional authorization. Finally, I am neither a party nor counsel nor financier to either Pruitt v. Sebelius or Halbig v. Sebelius.

Aside From That, Mrs. Lincoln, How’s ObamaCare Implementation Going?

The Washington Post has published a remarkable exposé on the Obama administration’s foundering efforts to implement ObamaCare.

The article paints a picture of a White House that did not know what it was getting into, either in terms of public opposition or the technical challenges of implementation. It likens the task of getting young adults to buy ObamaCare’s health plans to getting young adults to vote, despite a glaring difference between those challenges. (Hint: one of them requires young adults to shell out hundreds of dollars per month.) But this exposé is most remarkable for not exposing two lawsuits that by far pose the greatest challenge to ObamaCare’s survival.

One indication that implementation is not going well is what the Post quotes ObamaCare’s supporters as saying:

“In 2011, there was this ‘we’re going to save the world’ mentality. In 2013, it focuses more on how do we deliver on the requirements of the law.”

“It’s pretty much a black box.”

“They tell us, ‘It’s freakishly on schedule.’ They use those exact words. But only the people who work in this can tell you if it’s actually running on time.”

“Advocates on the ground are really struggling with that group. They want to have a positive message but don’t know what to say.”

“We’re in an environment [now] where 40 percent are against it, 35 percent are for it and neither side knows what’s actually in it.”

“How hard does the insurance department or Medicaid department in a red state [that opposes the law] make it to implement this?”

“Everybody is having sleepless nights given the magnitude of the effort and the short amount of time.”

“It’s like building a bridge from both ends and hoping, in the end, they connect.”

“I read [the delay of the employer-mandate] as an admission that not all of the components of the [data] hub are working.”

“Some of the guidance from the federal government is still coming. That means we can’t get to our wishlist.”

As bad as these evaluations are, things are actually quite a bit worse.

For one thing, the HuffingtonPost/Pollster.com polling aggregator currently shows that 52.5 percent of Americans are against ObamaCare, compared to 40.5 percent are for it. That’s a 12-point gap, not a five-point gap. It’s also the largest gap that aggregator has ever measured.

For another, the Washington Post acknowledges that if young adults don’t sign up for ObamaCare’s over-priced insurance “the law will fail,” and acknowledges the difficulty of getting young adults to over-pay for insurance. But it still downplays that challenge:

When…asked in a recent survey whether a $210 premium was affordable, only 29 percent of likely marketplace enrollees said yes. [Marketers then told] participants that, with their tax credits, they would save “$1,908 a year compared to what you would pay on your own.”

All of a sudden, 48 percent of the participants thought that insurance was affordable. But 48 percent is still less than half.

That number will turn out to be even lower when young adults realize they’re still shelling out that $210 they already said they cannot afford.

But the Post neglects to mention the greatest threat to the law’s survival: those tax credits may not even be there in two-thirds of the country.

The attorney general of Oklahoma, and a group of small employers and individuals from various states, have each filed lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s plans to issue those tax credits in the 34 states that have opted not to establish one of ObamaCare’s health insurance “exchanges” themselves. The statute quite clearly authorizes those credits (and related subsidies) only “through an Exchange established by the State.” Nowhere, and in no way, does federal law allow the administration to issue entitlements through the 34 state-based Exchanges established and operated by the federal government. Yet the White House is trying to spend an estimated $700 billion over 10 years in those states without congressional authorization.

Both the non-partisan Congressional Research Service and Harvard Law Review have acknowledged these lawsuits are credible. Plaintiffs in one of the suits have asked the court to block that illegal spending before it begins in 2014. Supporters of the law admit that if that happens, ObamaCare doesn’t just fail, it collapses.

So the question this supposed exposé really answers is: aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how’s ObamaCare implementation going?

Fourth Circuit’s Liberty Ruling Deals a Hidden Blow to Obamacare

Obamacare had a rough day in court yesterday. In Liberty University v. Lew, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled against Liberty University’s challenge to various aspects of the law. One might think, as SCOTUSblog reported, this was a victory for the Obama administration. 

In the process, however, the Fourth Circuit undercut three arguments the administration hopes will derail two lawsuits that pose an even greater threat to Obamacare’s survival, Pruitt v. Sebelius and Halbig v. Sebelius

The plaintiffs in both Pruitt and Halbig claim, correctly, that Obamacare forbids the administration to issue the law’s “premium assistance tax credits” in the 34 states that have refused to establish a health insurance “exchange.” The Pruitt and Halbig plaintiffs further claim that the administration’s plans to issue those tax credits in those 34 states anyway, contrary to the statute, injures them in a number of ways. One of those injuries is that the illegal tax credits would subject the employer-plaintiffs to penalties under Obamacare’s employer mandate, from which they should be exempt. (The event that triggers penalties against an employer is when one of its workers receives a tax credit. If there are no tax credits, there can be no penalties. Therefore, under the statute, when those 34 states opted not to establish exchanges, they effectively exempted their employers from those penalties.)

The Obama administration has moved to dismiss Pruitt and Halbig on a number of grounds. First, it argues that those penalties are a tax, and the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA) prevents taxpayers from challenging the imposition of a tax before it is assessed. Second, the administration argues that the injuries claimed by the employer-plaintiffs are too speculative to establish standing. Third, shortly after announcing it would effectively repeal the employer penalties until 2015, the administration wrote the Liberty, Pruitt, and Halbig courts to argue that the delay should (at the very least) delay the courts’ consideration of those cases. In Liberty, the Fourth Circuit rejected all of those claims.

In discussing whether the “assessible payment” that the employer mandate imposes on non-compliant employers falls under the AIA, the court writes:

Obama Administration Tries to Use Its Illegal Delay of the Employer Mandate to Block Legal Challenges

Within hours of announcing its illegal decision to delay the employer mandate, the Obama administration on July 3 asked a federal court to block a legal challenge to the mandate, Liberty University v. Geithner, based on that delay. Today, the administration filed similar requests in Pruitt v. Sebelius and Halbig v. SebeliusThese actions confirm speculation that blocking these lawsuits—and especially Pruitt and Halbig—may have been the whole purpose of the delay.

I don’t have links yet, but the administration’s argument is weak and would not appear to impede any of the three cases. I hope to have more to say about this development soon.