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.”
A new memo from the Congressional Research Service explains that the next president cannot simply stop ObamaCare (“PPACA”) by executive order:
[A] president would not appear to be able to issue an executive order halting statutorily required programs or mandatory appropriations for a new grant or other program in PPACA, and there are a variety of different types of these programs. Such an executive order would likely conflict with an explicit congressional mandate and be viewed “incompatible with the express…will of Congress”…However, there may be instances where PPACA leaves discretion to the Secretary to take actions to implement a mandatory program, and…an executive order directing the Secretary to take particular actions may be analyzed as within or beyond the President’s powers to provide for the direction of the executive branch.
In other words, the worst elements of ObamaCare – the government price controls it imposes on health insurance, the individual mandate, and the new spending on health-insurance entitlements – are “statutorily required programs” that, say, President Romney cannot repeal or even halt by executive order.
However, there is one executive order that could effectively block ObamaCare, and that lies well within the president’s powers.
The Obama administration has issued a proposed IRS rule that would offer “premium assistance” (a hybrid of tax credits and outlays) in health insurance “exchanges” created by the federal government. The only problem is, ObamaCare only authorizes these tax credits and outlays in “an Exchange established by the State.” The administration did so because without premium assistance, ObamaCare will collapse, at least in states that do not create their own Exchanges. Yet the executive branch does not have the power to create new tax credits and outlays. Only Congress does. So if the final version of this IRS rule offers premium assistance in federal Exchanges, it will clearly exceed the authority that Congress and the Constitution have delegated to the executive branch.
In that case, the next president could issue an executive order directing the IRS either not to offer premium assistance in federal Exchanges or to rescind this rule and draft a new one that does not. The U.S. Constitution demands that the president “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Such an executive order therefore lies clearly within the president’s constitutional powers: it would ensure the faithful execution of the laws by preventing the executive from usurping Congress’ legislative powers.
While such an executive order would not repeal ObamaCare, as Jonathan Adler and I explain in this Wall Street Journal oped, it would “block much of ObamaCare’s spending and practically force Congress to reopen the law.”
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?
This work by Cato Institute is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.