For the moment, the case of King v Burwell is nothing more than a high stakes game of kibitzing for political analysts and media spokesmodels. No matter how many hints or visual clues we draw from the proceedings or what sort of alphitomancy the legal experts on CNN engage in, there won’t be an answer until early this summer. If the court upholds Obamacare yet again, nothing much will change and the debate will go on through the current election cycle. But if the court strikes down the subsidies under discussion, the entire Affordable Care Act will be creaking and swaying, threatening to collapse. If that happens, everyone involved needs to be ready to move quickly.
That’s the point being made by Senator Ben Sasse (R – Nebraska) at National Review, who encourages Republicans and conservatives to stand strong in the face of a predicted liberal onslaught, but to have a plan in place to mitigate the backlash. And there will be backlash aplenty.
Government bureaucrats have written the fine print so that big insurance companies can drop their most expensive customers, such as those receiving chemotherapy. The administration is taking hostages, willing to let people lose coverage so they can run an attack ad featuring a six-year-old asking why Republicans are going to “kill my mommy over a typo.” Armed with the White House briefing room, many in the national media, and billion-dollar PR firms, the administration is looking forward to the politics of this hostage situation.
Should Congress resist, the Left — after inflicting maximum pain on Republicans inside the Beltway — will move to a state-by-state strategy to pressure governors to adopt a state exchange so Obamacare subsidies can flow to the sickest patients in their states. States will feel pressure to opt into Obamacare — and stop the suffering. The nine states that are controlled by Democratic and Independent governors may be the first to fold. Republican governors would not be exempt. The pressure to expand Obamacare’s reach into deep red states will be devastating.
That sounds about right. As far as the Democrats are concerned, in the early to middle stages of a presidential campaign with no incumbent on the stage, the only thing worse than losing Obamacare would be losing the chance to attack Republicans over Obamacare. The television commercials to which Sasse refers are very likely already in production, with teary eyed waifs tugging at their fathers’ shirt sleeves as they stand waiting to go into the hospital room to visit their dying mothers. The backlash at the state level could be far worse than any seen in the presidential race, with the new majority of Republican governors under the gun for having put so many of their citizens at risk by not having an exchange.
So what can be done to mitigate the damage? Sasse offers a fairly simply bandage.
We must not extend nor expand Obamacare. We need a completely different solution to help those caught in the Obamacare snare. That’s why, today, I am introducing the Winding Down Obamacare Act, which would use a Reagan-era law to solve Obama-era pain. We can adapt the COBRA law, signed by President Reagan in 1985, to help those who are in danger of losing their insurance through no fault of their own.
As those who have used COBRA know, it can be quite expensive, because the individual is expected to pick up the whole cost. In a post-King moment, Congress can provide some help in the immediate wake of a correctly decided but disruptive Supreme Court case. Much like the tax credit Senator Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) proposed in 2009, and that’s been used with COBRA before, we can provide a tax credit that offsets 65 percent of the costs of an individual’s current plans.
I’m not quite as convinced as Ben Sasse that the case will go our way. The days when the Supreme Court ruled strictly on the letter of the law and were blind to political pressure are long since gone, if they ever existed at all. The backlash is predictable enough that I have no trouble believing that John Roberts will vote with the liberal justices to save the program, even if Kennedy doesn’t. But if it goes the other way, the GOP needs to be ready and Sasse is on to something here.
His major point is that we were going to have to jack up taxes and/or foot the bill for a variety of expenses to continue funding Obamacare anyway. That money was gone, so proactively putting funding in place to bail people out when their coverage goes away is both humane and politically prudent. Remember… a number of these folks are the ones who lost the plans they were promised they could keep and wound up heading to Obamacare because there were no other readily affordable options. It’s not their fault that they wound up in the system in the first place. And it will also take a lot of pressure off of the Republican governors when the hammer falls.
This is a good bit of thinking that Sasse has going. I’m not sure if it’s as close as we can get to perfect, and other experienced folks should be looking to see if improvements are available, but at least it’s a starting point. And it’s one heck of a lot better than getting caught with our pants down if Obamacare hits the skids and there is no plan in place to deflect the Democrat counterattack.