Tag: obamacare lawsuits

Cato Maintains Opposition to IRS Lawlessness in Obamacare-Subsidies Case

To encourage the purchase of health insurance, the Affordable Care Act added a number of deductions, exemptions, and penalties to the federal tax code. As might be expected from a 2,700-page law, these new tax laws have the potential to interact in unforeseen and counterintuitive ways.

As first discovered by Michael Cannon and Jonathan Adler, one of these new tax provisions, when combined with state decision-making and IRS rule-making, has given Obamacare yet another legal problem. The legislation’s Section 1311 provides a generous tax credit for anyone who buys insurance from an insurance exchange “established by the State”—as an incentive for states to create the exchanges—but only 16 states have opted to do so. In the other states, the federal government established its own exchanges, as another section of the ACA specifies. But where § 1311 only explicitly authorized a tax credit for people who buy insurance from a state exchange, the IRS issued a rule interpreting § 1311 as also applying to purchases from federal exchanges.

This creative interpretation most obviously hurts employers, who are fined for every employee who receives such a tax credit/subsidy to buy an exchange plan when their employer fails to comply with the mandate to provide health insurance. But it also hurts some individuals, such as David Klemencic, a lead plaintiff in one of the lawsuits challenging the IRS’s tax-credit rule. Klemencic lives in a state, West Virginia, that never established an exchange, and for various reasons he doesn’t want to buy any of the insurance options available to him. Because buying insurance would cost him more than 8% of his income, he should be immune from Obamacare’s tax on the decision not to buy insurance.  After the IRS expanded § 1311 to subsidize people in states with federal exchanges, however, Klemencic could’ve bought health insurance for an amount low enough to again subject him to the tax for not buying insurance. Klemencic and his fellow plaintiffs argue that they face these costs only because the IRS exceeded the scope of its powers by extending a tax credit not authorized by Congress.

The district court rejected that argument, ruling that, under the highly deferential test courts apply to actions by administrative agencies, the IRS only had to show that its interpretation of § 1311 was reasonable—which the court was satisfied it had. On appeal, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the plain language of the ACA precluded the federal government from subsidizing the premiums of insurance policies obtained through federally established exchanges. Later that same day, the Fourth Circuit in King v. Burwell took the opposite position on the same question—from which ruling there is now a cert petition pending in the Supreme Court.

This circuit split did not last long, however, as the D.C. Circuit decided to vacate the panel opinion and rehear Halbig en banc (meaning all the court’s judges, not just a three-judge panel). Federal appellate rules say that such review “is not favored” and the D.C. Circuit has a particularly high bar, on average taking only one case per year en banc. Judge Harry Edwards, who dissented in the Halbig panel ruling, has taken great pains to reduce the number of en banc hearings. Even before he served as the D.C. Circuit’s chief judge, Edwards wrote in Bartlett v. Bowen (1987) that “the institutional cost of rehearing cases en banc is extraordinary” and that it “substantially delays the case being reheard, often with no clear principle emanating from the en banc court.” Nevertheless, the court took this step, vindicating President Obama’s strategy of packing the underworked D.C. Circuit after the Senate eliminated the filibuster for judicial nominees.

Cato and the Pacific Research Institute have filed a brief continuing our support for the plaintiffs on their appeal. While it is manifestly the province of the judiciary to say “what the law is,” where the law’s text leaves no question as to its meaning—as is the case here with the phrase “established by the State”—it’s neither right nor proper for a court to replace the laws passed by Congress with those of its own invention, or the invention of civil servants.

If Congress wants to extend the tax credit beyond the terms of the ACA, it can do so by passing new legislation. The only reason for executive-branch officials not to go back to Congress for clarification, and instead legislate by fiat, is to bypass the democratic process, thereby undermining constitutional separation of powers.

This case ultimately isn’t about money, the wisdom of individual health care decision-making, or even political opposition to Obamacare. It’s about who gets to create the laws we live by: the democratically elected members of Congress, or the bureaucrats charged with no more than executing the laws that Congress passes and the president signs.

The en banc D.C. Circuit will hear argument in Halbig v. Burwell on December 17.

‘We Are Not Deciding between Regulation and Autonomy, We Are Deciding Whether or Not We Want a Puppet Government’

That’s how Charlie Arlinghaus, president of New Hampshire’s Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, describes the decision confronting states about whether to create an ObamaCare Exchange in this op-ed for the New Hampshire Union-Leader.

Wisconsin Stiff-Arms ObamaCare

For the better part of a year, I have been urging states to refuse to implement ObamaCare, and to send any ObamaCare grants back to Washington, D.C.. In October, I was pleased to see the Heritage Foundation’s Ed Haislmaier call on states to do the same.

Late yesterday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) became the latest governor to heed that advice. Walker announced Wisconsin will return the $37 million “Early Innovator Grant” it received from the Obama administration under the health care law.

Wisconsin never should have accepted that money. Its purpose was to rope state officials into implementing a law that Walker himself described as “unprecedented,” “unconstitutional,” and jeopardizing “the foundational principle, enshrined in our Constitution, that the federal government is one of limited and enumerated powers.” Yet Walker accepted the Early Innovator Grant after Wisconsin joined the Florida v. HHS lawsuit, and after a federal district court declared the entire law unconstitutional and void.

Nevertheless, Walker did the right thing by joining the other two GOP governors who received Early Innovator Grants—Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin—in sending the money back. Walker’s move probably took no small amount of political courage, given how hard the health insurance industry and other ObamaCare profiteers—including prominent Republicans—have been lobbying states like Wisconsin to create an Exchange.

Kudos.

Podcast: How States Can Shut Down ObamaCare

Here’s a podcast on how states can shut down ObamaCare.

And here are links to additional material, including an op-ed that provides an overview, a blog post about Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) getting involved, a blog post on how presidential candidates could get involved, and finally a blog post on what the Obama administration has to say about all this.

ObamaCare: a Federal Takeover, No Matter Who Runs the Exchanges

Merrill Goozner read my article in the March 21 National Review, in which I argue that states should refuse all ObamaCare funds and refuse to erect an ObamaCare Exchange that would execute the law’s many health-insurance regulations. Since ObamaCare provides that the feds will set up and administer an Exchange in states that don’t do so themselves, Goozner concludes that I’m actually advocating a federal takeover of health care. Really?

Goozner either completely missed the point of my article, which I sort of doubt, or he’s trying to be cute.  Let’s assume it’s the former.

As I explain in that article, under ObamaCare the feds will write all the rules governing health insurance, so who administers the Exchanges is well-nigh irrelevant. ObamaCare is a federal takeover of health care, no matter who runs these new government bureaucracies that we call health insurance Exchanges.

Then again, there is reason to suspect that Goozner is just trying to be cute. ObamaCare apologists know that if states stop implementing the law, it will be easier for Congress to repeal it or for the Supreme Court to strike it down.  They know that if states don’t set up their own Exchanges, HHS may not be able to set them up itself, which would jeopardize the federal government’s ability to start doling out ObamaCare’s hundreds of billions of dollars in new debt-financed entitlement spending in 2014.  So it makes sense to attack or ridicule me for suggesting that states should obstruct ObamaCare because he suspects that could bring the whole miserable operation down.  But surely Goozner can come up with something more plausible than  suggesting that I’m advocating a federal takeover of health care.

Mitch Daniels and ObamaCare, Round Two

In a March 4 article for National Review Online titled, “Mitch Daniels’s Obamacare Problem,” I explain how Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) is undermining the effort to repeal ObamaCare, and how he might do even more damage to that movement as the Republican nominee for president.  My article came under fire from Daniels’ policy director Lawren Mills (in the comments section of my article), Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute, and Bob Goldberg of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

Today, NRO runs my response.  An excerpt:

In brief, the trio believes that Daniels’s expansion of government-run health care is a conservative triumph. I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation…

Daniels has an ObamaCare problem that could hurt the repeal movement if he doesn’t deal with it. Turner is creating more ObamaCare problems. This isn’t the first time conservatives have danced with the devil on health-care questions (see Massachusetts), but with health-care freedom now at its moment of maximum peril, that needs to stop. It will probably, however, take more than just the usual voices of protest to stop it. Tea Party and traditional conservative groups should perhaps spend less time attacking congressional Republicans over relatively minor tactical disagreements, and more time educating the governors, state legislators, and (yes) policy wonks who are actively implementing ObamaCare in their own backyards.

I’ll be speaking tonight at a Capitol Hill event sponsored by the Galen Institute (among others).