Earlier this year, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) thought he’d come up with a great idea: he’d file a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act in the hopes of making coverage more expensive for Capitol Hill staff. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Johnson’s home state of Wisconsin, conceded the senator’s lawsuit was “frivolous” and an “unfortunate political stunt.”
Yesterday, in a development that was arguably even more important than it appears at first blush, a federal judge threw out the case.
A federal judge based in Green Bay has tossed a Sen. Ron Johnson’s Obamacare lawsuit targeting the health benefits for members of Congress and their staff.
The court dismissed the lawsuit, which contended the Obama administrations decision to grant employer contributions for health plans purchased through the District of Columbia’s Obamacare health exchange ran afoul of the law.
Chief Judge William C. Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that Johnson and fellow plaintiff Brooke Ericson lacked standing, siding with the argument made by the government’s lawyers.
The hurdle for Johnson’s lawyers was always going to be difficult to clear: how would the Republican senator demonstrate he’d been harmed by the health care policy he doesn’t like? Remember, when filing a lawsuit challenging the legality of a law, plaintiffs can’t just say, “I don’t like it.” They need to show how they’ve been adversely affected by it.
Johnson couldn’t, so his case was dismissed. But this is more than just a setback for one Republican senator with a partisan axe to grind; this is also likely the start of things to come for the GOP’s anti-Obama litigation.
Let’s not forget that in April, Johnson not only had high hopes for his case, he also had the enthusiastic support of his Republican colleagues. As we talked about at the time, 38 GOP senators signed onto a legal brief, urging the courts to rule in Johnson’s favor.
As these lawmakers saw it, they were fighting for the preservation of the republic. “The unlawful executive action at issue in this case is not an isolated incident,” the brief said. “Rather, it is part of an ongoing campaign by the executive branch to rewrite the Affordable Care Act on a wholesale basis.”
The courts must side with Johnson, the GOP lawmakers’ brief added, because the administration’s campaign “threatens to subvert the most basic precept of our system of government.”
It was, to be sure, a dumb and overdramatic argument. But more important, it also failed miserably – a federal judge ruled late yesterday that without standing to argue the case, far-right lawmakers will have to pursue their preservation of the republic in some other way.
One wonders if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took note of the developments.
As for the underlying policy issue, a little background is probably in order. Johnson argued that Democrats came up with a congressional subsidy in the ACA “once members realized how harmful Obamacare actually was.” That was brazenly false.
In reality, the law includes a provision that says members of Congress and their staffs have to sign up for coverage through an exchange. This became tricky because the exchange marketplaces were designed primarily for the uninsured, but Republicans said they wanted this in the law, so it’s in there.
But the story got a little more complicated when the Office of Personnel Management had to decide whether lawmakers and their staffs should also receive the same employer subsidy as everyone else, or whether everyone on Capitol Hill should face higher costs just because they work on Capitol Hill. OPM, with the blessing of the House Republican leadership, said lawmakers and aides can keep the same employer subsidy and play by the same rules as everyone else.
And that’s why Johnson sued – he wanted Capitol Hill employees to pay more for health care because it would make the right feel better. As of yesterday, the argument is a bust.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 22, 2014
“Judicial Neutrality Is Nothing But A Farce”: The Latest ObamaCare Decision Makes It Official, We Need More Liberal Judges
After the passage of ObamaCare in 2010, dozens of conservative wonks, activists, and lawyers began poring over the text of the law, trying to find some legal foothold to overthrow as much of it as possible. First they argued that the law’s individual mandate was unconstitutional in NFIB vs. Sebelius, which was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2012. However, the decision weakened the law by making its expansion of Medicaid optional, which led most conservative states to reject it and deny coverage to millions of poorer Americans.
Then, in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, conservatives attacked the scope of the law’s mandated coverage, arguing that the inclusion of certain kinds of contraception violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That one they basically won, though the damage was minimal.
You’ll know these efforts by what conservatives usually call them: “judicial activism.” It paid off again today, with a three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dealing a sharp blow to ObamaCare’s subsidy system. Adrianna McIntyre explains:
The suit alleges that subsidies should only be available in states that set up their own insurance exchanges, based on the text of the Affordable Care Act. The government can still appeal, but if it ultimately loses the case at the Supreme Court, it’s possible that federal subsidies will no longer be available to help make insurance affordable in over 30 states.
Due to what appears to many outside observers to have been poorly crafted legislative language, Congress arguably wrote a sentence that provides subsidies exclusively to state-based exchanges and not to federally facilitated ones, even while subjectively intending to provide subsidies in both cases. [Vox]
Now, Halbig v. Burwell is only a preliminary ruling. The government probably will request an “en banc” ruling before the entire appellate court, which leans to the left — thanks to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pushing through filibuster reform that filled its long-empty seats with President Obama’s appointees. What’s more, another ruling hours later by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, upheld the ObamaCare subsidies, deferring to the government’s interpretation of the language to mean that it is authorized to dole out those subsidies. It’s possible this will all end up before the Supreme Court, increasingly America’s only policy-making body of consequence.
God only knows what the high court will decide. Thirty-six states did not create their own ObamaCare exchanges, which means that upholding Halbig would swipe the subsidies from something like 87 percent of people who bought insurance on the federal exchange — about 4.7 million of them. Premiums would shoot up by an average of 76 percent, basically crippling the law. An individual mandate is unjustifiable without subsidies for people who can’t afford insurance. Chief Justice John Roberts might balk at destroying the keystone achievement of the Obama presidency on what amounts to a trivial technicality — or he might not.
What we do know is that the concept of judicial “neutrality” is nothing but a farce. The conservative goal is to pick at any possible legal thread and mobilize the judicial system to achieve their aim of destroying the law and throwing millions of people off their health insurance, even if the underlying legal rationale is wildly tendentious or weaselly or undemocratic. There will be Republican-appointed judges who will buy such arguments wholesale, as evidenced by the conservative majority in Halbig, which didn’t even bother to hide their scorn for the government’s case.
Indeed, half the reason so many states don’t have exchanges in the first place is that a Cato Institute analyst named Michael Cannon has been crossing the nation telling them not to, with the deliberate object of maximizing the damage to ObamaCare if the courts endorsed Halbig-style reasoning.
Liberals need to jettison the impossible idea of neutral, objective judges, and just get avowed lefties appointed wherever possible. As conservatives have demonstrated, that’s simply how the system works.
By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, July 22, 2014
“Rick Perry’s Operation Strong Safety”: Creating A Talking Point For The Campaign Trail, Not Searching For A Practical Solution
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) recently appeared on Fox News, stressing his support for deploying National Guard troops to address the humanitarian crisis at the Southern border. Brit Hume asked the governor to explain what the Guard would actually do. Perry struggled to explain.
Hume reminded Perry, “[I]f these children who’ve undergone these harrowing journeys, to escape the most desperate conditions in their home countries, have gotten this far, are they really going to be deterred by the presence of troops along the border who won’t shoot them and can’t arrest them?”
At this point, Perry changed the subject.
But that was last week. This week, the Republican governor and likely presidential candidate is moving forward with his idea, whether he can explain its merits or not.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Monday requested the immediate deployment of as many as 1,000 service members to assist with security at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The soldiers, from both the Texas National Guard and State Guard, will mobilize throughout the next 30 days to carry out “Operation Strong Safety” along the border region.
“I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault,” Perry said Monday during a press conference.
First, there’s very little to suggest Texans are “under assault.” Second, “Operation Strong Safety” is an unintentionally amusing phrase. As Paul Waldman joked, “ ‘Operation Strong Safety’? Why not just go ahead and call it Operation America Macho TestosteReagan?”
But even putting that aside, at its core, the most meaningful concern here is that Perry’s solution doesn’t match the problem.
The obvious question in response to the announcement from the governor’s office is simple: what, exactly, does Perry expect the Guard to do?
Part of the rationale, he said yesterday, was to deter others from entering the United States illegally. Again, this is predicated on a mistaken assumption about the nature of the crisis itself. These unaccompanied children are not sneaking into the country – on the contrary, they’re walking up to law-enforcement officials and gladly turning themselves in.
There is no deterrent effect in having more law-enforcement personnel because the kids aren’t afraid of getting caught. They fully expect to be taken into custody; they want to be taken into custody. Does Perry not understand these details? If not, why not?
What’s more, Greg Sargent recently talked to the head of the National Guard under the Bush/Cheney administration, who offered a valuable perspective.
[I]n an interview today, the head of the National Guard under George W. Bush said he had not yet heard a clear rationale for sending in the Guard and suggested it might not be the appropriate response to the problems at the core of the current crisis, though he did say he could envision the Guard playing some sort of part in a broader solution.
“Until mission requirements are clearly defined, it can’t be determined whether this is an appropriate use of the Guard in this particular case,” H. Steven Blum, who was the Chief of the National Guard Bureau from 2003 to 2009 and has been a career military man for decades, told me. “There may be many other organizations that might more appropriately be called upon. If you’re talking about search and rescue, maintaining the rule of law or restoring conditions back to normal after a natural disaster or a catastrophe, the Guard is superbly suited to that. I’m not so sure that what we’re dealing with in scope and causation right now would make it the ideal choice.”
That still seems to be an exceedingly polite way of saying, “Republican demands don’t seem to make any sense.”
Of course, it’s possible Perry’s decision is less about making sense and more about presidential posturing in advance of a national campaign. Immigration was an albatross for the Texas governor in 2012 – remember the “have a heart” problem? – and the Republican is no doubt eager to chart a different course in advance of 2016. Dispatching the National Guard, in this sense, is about looking “tough” and creating a talking point for the campaign trail, not searching for a practical solution.
It led Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) to say in a statement, “Once again, Texas taxpayers are being forced to pay for Governor Perry’s grandiose political ambitions. It is a costly misuse of our highly skilled National Guard to demand its service as a mere referral agent for children seeking refuge from abuse. Doing its job effectively, our Border Patrol does not need interference from either Governor Perry or vigilantes. We deserve Texas tough, but today we get only Texas Governor weak – weak on any bipartisan solutions, weak on any meaningful action.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 22, 2014
The Affordable Care Act took a potentially serious hit today when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a rule that extended the law’s health-care subsidies to residents of the three-dozen states where the federal government runs a health insurance exchange.
But the fact that another court of appeals upheld the same rule on the same day shows that the legal issue is very thorny and will very likely be ultimately resolved by the Supreme Court. And the administration probably will come out ahead in the end.
The controversial part of the law says that the government can provide subsidies for health insurance bought on exchanges “established by [a] State.”
The argument against the administration’s rule is straightforward: if a state refuses to set up an exchange, forcing the federal government to operate it instead, then the subsidies aren’t available. That legal reading of the statute makes some sense, because Congress may have wanted to encourage states to create exchanges with the carrot of promising subsidies for the states’ residents.
But the courts are required to uphold the rule if the law is ambiguous and the administration’s position is reasonable. The Supreme Court will probably uphold the rule under that lax standard.
Here’s why. Other provisions of the statute reference an exchange “established by [a] State,” but really include the federal government. Another section of the law refers to a state-run exchange when everyone agrees that it means to include the federal government too. Also, the law actually requires every state to set up an exchange, and it refers to all the exchanges as having been established by states. So you can look at the statute as a whole and reasonably read it to extend the subsidies to residents of every state.
It also makes some difference that the section of the law cited by the rule’s opponents is a strange place for Congress to have limited the availability of subsidies, because that section states the formula for tax credits rather than core rules on who gets benefits under the Act. There also isn’t much evidence to suggest that Congress actually was intending to use the subsidies to encourage states to create exchanges.
We won’t have a final answer for a while. The parties can ask all the judges of both of the courts of appeals that issued today’s rulings to rehear the case. The administration has the better chance, because recent appointments to the court that struck down the rule tilt the court to the left. But it may be that both courts will see that Supreme Court review is inevitable and stand aside to let the Justices decide the issue.
The issue is so close and contentious that it is basically inevitable that the Supreme Court will have to resolve it. If the case goes straight to the Supreme Court, we will get a final decision within a year; otherwise, it will probably be two. My best guess is that a majority of the Justices will cite the limited role of the courts and rule for the administration and uphold the rule by the same5-to-4 majority that rejected the major constitutional challenge to the law two years ago.
By: Tom Goldstein, Appellate Advocate, best known as one of the nation’s most experienced Supreme Court practitioners, Co-founder and Publisher of SCOTUSblog; The Washington Post, July 22, 2014
Today in a two-to-one decision a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit delivered Republicans perhaps their biggest victory yet in their ongoing legal battle to destroy the Affordable Care Act. This case is far from over — it will probably be appealed to the full appeals court (where today’s decision is likely to be reversed) and then to the Supreme Court. But it demonstrates just how willing Republicans are to lay waste to Americans’ lives if it means they can strike a blow at Barack Obama and his health law.
In some of their challenges to the ACA, there was a legitimate philosophical or practical point Republicans were making. You or I might think the idea that a mandate to carry insurance constitutes the death of liberty is ridiculous, but at least it was a substantive objection. Not so in this case, Halbig v. Burwell. Here, Republicans literally found a legislative drafting error in the ACA that they hoped could be used to deal a near-fatal blow to the law, and two Republican-appointed appeals court judges agreed with them.
In a section of the ACA concerning the subsidies given to low- and middle-income people to buy insurance on the exchanges, the legislation refers to subsidies provided through “an Exchange established by the State.” Since over half the states didn’t create their own exchanges and ended up with the federal exchange, the plaintiffs argue that no one in those states should be eligible to receive subsidies. If they’re successful, it would mean that if you live in Kentucky, which has a state exchange, you can get federal subsidies to buy insurance, but if you live next door in Tennessee, which uses the federal exchange, you can’t.
Now pause for a moment and consider what it is Republicans are asking the courts to do here. They want millions of Americans to lose the subsidies they got this year, in many if not most cases making health insurance completely unaffordable for them, and their justification is this: We found a mistake in the law, so you people are screwed. As far as the Republicans are concerned, it’s like spotting that a batter’s toe missed second base as he was trotting around for his home run, and therefore claiming that they won the game after all.
But it’s not a game, it’s people’s lives. If they succeed at the Supreme Court, people will die. That’s not hyperbole. Millions of Americans will lose their health coverage — 6.5 million by one estimate — and many of them won’t be able to afford to go to the doctor, and many of them will have ailments that go untreated. People will die.
If you want to read a comprehensive analysis of how legally and logically absurd this decision was, I’d recommend this one by Ian Millhiser. Cases like this often turn on Congress’ intent in writing legislation, and in this case there is no question about that intent — at no point in the debate or drafting or voting did anyone say that if a state chose to use the federal exchange then the people in that state wouldn’t get subsidies. But if you read the majority’s decision, you can see the two Republican judges positively luxuriating in the drafting error for page after page, exploring every possible way in which it could trap the government into denying subsidies to people.
Most ridiculously, they assert that there’s just no way to know whether Congress actually intended that people in states using the federal exchange should get subsidies, so their intent can only be inferred by the phrase “established by the State.”
As I said, this is a temporary victory for the ACA’s opponents — the whole D.C. Circuit court is likely to reverse this decision, though what will happen at the Supreme Court is less than clear. But when you see Republicans raising glasses of champagne to congratulate themselves on how clever they are, remember what it is they’re celebrating. It isn’t that conservatism won some meaningful philosophical victory, or that they’ve managed to make the country a better place. All that’s happening is that they may have succeeded in taking health insurance away from millions of Americans.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prsospect; Published at The Plum Line, The Washington Post, July 22, 2014