With so many new controversies boiling over on the stove this year, do we really need to dredge up some of the golden oldies for a rerun? Apparently so. The Justice Department is wading into a court battle over Obamacare that’s playing out in the Fifth Circuit, and this time they’re backing a move to eliminate the entire program. Rather than some novel new attack on the Affordable Care Act, this is more of reset, using old legal arguments against its constitutionality in light of changes made as a result of previous court rulings. (The Hill)
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday announced that it is siding with a district court ruling that found the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.
The move is an escalation of the Trump administration’s legal battle against the health care law.
The DOJ previously argued in court that the law’s pre-existing condition protections should be struck down. Now, the administration argues the entire law should be invalidated.
U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor ruled in December that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the rest of law is therefore invalid.
The first time this fight went all the way to the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice wound up siding with the liberals and keeping Obamacare alive. The only way they could construe it as being constitutional was if they defined the individual mandate as a tax, which is what John Roberts finally decided to go with. But now the individual mandate has been struck down, so it’s no longer a tax, right? And without that defense, the constitutionality question is back on the table. (The pre-existing condition issue is another matter.)
The politics of this fight stink to high heaven for Republicans right now. CNN is already having a field day this morning running clips from the State of the Union and a few Trump campaign rallies where he promised to protect people with pre-existing conditions while figuring out a way to bring down premiums.
The GOP really needs to tread carefully here. Many Republicans ran on repealing Obamacare in 2016 so they were obligated to give it a try once they got into office. But after the effort failed, the issue largely dropped off the radar. Bringing it back now is just going to wind up giving the Democrats (who have never stopped talking about healthcare) a better issue to talk about than amnesty for illegal aliens or how well the economy is doing under Trump.
And the unfortunate fact is that among a certain subset of voters, the program remains popular. For most people with at least a modest income, Obamacare policies are stupidly expensive compared to employer-offered plans and the deductibles are far too high. But for anyone who is truly at the bottom of the wage ladder and qualifies for the maximum subsidies (paid for by everyone else), it’s a pretty good deal. There’s a reason that once an entitlement program is summoned into existence it’s generally very hard to get rid of. Polling during the runup to the midterms last year showed that Obamacare had finally reached a majority level of support in the country, while the GOP plan proposed to replace it mustered only 17% approval.
Republicans need to be running on immigration, the low unemployment rate we’re currently enjoying, rising wages and lower taxes. Dragging Obamacare back into the mix seems like a tone-deaf maneuver. If they really want to lock horns with the Democrats on health care, they should be figuring out their own plan to actually reduce costs.
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