At a packed Cato Institute briefing on Capitol Hill yesterday, Jonathan Adler and I debated ObamaCare expert Timothy Jost over an admittedly wonky issue that nevertheless could determine the fate of ObamaCare: whether Congress authorized the IRS to subsidize health insurers, and to tax employers and certain individuals, in states that refuse to establish one of ObamaCare's health insurance "exchanges."
I want you, dear Cato@Liberty readers, to help us get to the bottom of it.
Adler and I claim that Congress specifically, repeatedly, and unambiguously precluded the IRS from imposing those taxes or issuing those subsidies through federal "fallback" Exchanges. We maintain the below video shows ObamaCare's chief sponsor and lead author--Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT)--admitting it. Jost says Baucus's comments have "absolutely nothing" to do with the matter. You be the judge, and tell us what you think.
A bit of background will help to frame what's happening in the video: Both sides agree this issue hinges on whether the statute authorizes "premium assistance tax credits" through both state-created and federal Exchanges, or only state-created Exchanges. The video is from a September 23, 2009, Finance Committee markup of ObamaCare. In it, Baucus rules out of order a Republican amendment on the grounds that medical malpractice lies outside the committee's jurisdiction. Sensing a double-standard, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) notes that Baucus's underlying bill directs states to change their health insurance laws and to establish Exchanges, matters which also lie outside the Finance Committee's jurisdiction, and asks why aren't those provisions also out of order. Okay, go.
I might note that these are the only comments anyone has unearthed from ObamaCare's legislative history that bear directly on the question of whether Congress intended to authorize tax credits in federal Exchanges.
Baucus's response is hardly a model of clarity. But I can see no possible interpretation other than Baucus is admitting that (A) the statute makes tax credits conditional on states establishing an Exchange, and therefore does not authorize tax credits through federal Exchanges, and (B) that this feature was essential for the Senate's tax-writing committee to have jurisdiction to legislate in the area of health insurance.
But maybe I'm wrong. What do you think Baucus is saying? Since we don't enable comments on Cato@Liberty, post your interpretation here on the Anti-Universal Coverage Club's Facebook page. Or post it on your own blog and send me a link.
For more on this issue, see what Adler and I have written for the law journal Health Matrix, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Health Affairs blog, and National Review Online.
Update (August 22, 2014): I blogged over at DarwinsFool.com that I have changed my mind on the Baucus-Ensign colloquy. Not that it matters much. The D.C. Circuit placed no weight on Baucus’ comments and ruled for the plaintiffs anyway.