jonathan adler

17 Errors & Omissions in Vox’s Otherwise Excellent History of King v. Burwell

This week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell, one of four legal challenges to an IRS regulation that purports to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but in fact vastly expands the IRS’s powers beyond the limits imposed by the Act. Just in time for oral arguments before the Court, Vox’s Sarah Kliff has produced what I think may be the best history of King v. Burwell and related cases I’ve seen. Still, there are a few important errors and omissions, listed here in rough order of importance.

King v. Burwell: In 2013, Nelson Admitted He Didn’t Know if the ACA Offered Subsidies in Federal Exchanges

The plaintiffs in King v. Burwell claim the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act only offers premium subsidies, as the statute says, “through an Exchange established by the State.” Members of Congress who voted for the PPACA – most recently Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and former Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) – now swear it was never their intent to condition Exchange subsidies on state cooperation.

Ironically, Casey’s and Nelson’s decision to wade into the King debate demonstrates why, when a statute is clear, courts traditionally assign no weight to what members of Congress claim they intended a law to say – especially if, as here, those claims come after a clear provision has proven problematic. While he claims he never intended to condition subsidies on states establishing Exchanges, Casey repeatedly voted to condition Exchange subsidies on state cooperation, has misrepresented what Congress intended the PPACA to do, and continues to misrepresent the PPACA on his Senate web site. Nelson’s claims about what Congress intended should likewise be taken with a grain of salt. In an unguarded moment in 2013, Nelson admitted that in 2009 he paid no attention to “details” such as whether the PPACA authorized subsidies in federal Exchanges.

All Sides Agree: Casey Supported Conditional Exchange Subsidies

Casey and Nelson exchanged correspondence exactly one day before amicus briefs supporting the government were due to be filed with the Supreme Court. Casey asked for Nelson’s recollection of whether, in 2009, Nelson or anyone else suggested the PPACA’s subsidies would only be available in states that established Exchanges. Perhaps more than anyone, Nelson was a pivotal figure in the debate over the PPACA. Not only did he insist on state-based Exchanges rather than a national Exchange run by the federal government, his was the deciding vote that enabled the bill to pass the Senate and become law – and he withheld his vote until his demands were met.

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.

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