The D.C. Circuit just agreed to hear the Halbig lawsuit. The short explanation of what this means is that it has closed off the easiest path to crippling Obamacare. Here’s the long explanation:
1. The Halbig lawsuit is the right’s most recent desperate effort to retroactively nullify the Affordable Care Act. The lawsuit is a wildly tendentious argument that, based on an extremely narrow reading of one ambiguous passage in the health-care law, people in states with federal-run insurance exchanges should be ineligible. Since the tax credits make insurance affordable for most consumers, the lawsuit would wreck the exchanges for some 6.5 million people, which is its entire point.
2. The Halbig suit has previously been laughed out of court, but in July, two out of three judges from the D.C. Circuit agreed with it. This ruling reflected the luck of the draw — the two judges were Republican appointees on a court consisting mostly of Democratic appointees.
3. This created a split, with some courts dismissing Halbig and another one embracing it. The split created an obvious window for the Supreme Court to take up the case — contrasting opinions between Federal Courts is a common reason for the Supreme Court to take up a case.
4. The split would close if the entire D.C. Circuit took up the case. In important cases with split decisions, the entire court usually weighs in. Conservatives desperately wanted to avoid this, for the reason stated above. They undertook a furious public campaign (see, for instance, here and here) to persuade the Court not to hear Halbig as a whole. Their rationale is that the Halbig lawsuit is not legally important enough to merit a full hearing. That argument is as ridiculous and transparently partisan as it sounds. Nicholas Bagley explains why here.
5. What happens next is that the entire D.C. Circuit will hear the case. Since the logic of the lawsuit is so ludicrous only a wildly partisan Republican jurist would ever accept it, it stands zero chance of success.
6. After that, Federal Courts will be unanimous in opposition to the Halbig lawsuit. The Supreme Court could still take up the case then, but it could just as easily decide not to hear it.
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, September 4, 2014
Politics is a constantly changing business, but there are still a few things you can count on in every election cycle: like Karl Rove’s dark money group, Crossroads GPS, blowing its donors’ money on misleading, ineffective attack ads.
Since President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, its opponents have spent over $400 million on television ads attacking it, with Crossroads leading the way. But despite Republicans’ repeated assertions that Obamacare would be the issue that causes Americans to rise up against Democrats and throw them out of office, the torrent of attack ads has actually done little to sway public opinion against the law. In fact, according to a Brookings Institution study, anti-Obamacare ads may have actually increased ACA enrollments by raising awareness about the law and its benefits.
But still, conservative outside spenders are determined to take their anti-health care message directly to the voters. The latest example is a new ad from Crossroads GPS, in which a Colorado woman named Richelle McKim laments that Senator “Mark Udall’s vote for Obamacare has hurt families in Colorado.”
McKim recounts her husband’s decision to start a new business, saying “We knew we needed to find health care. Because we were a single-income family, we couldn’t afford our plan.” Text then flashes across the screen, letting viewers know that “Richelle had to go back to work.”
It seems like a perfect case to make to the suburban women who are likely to decide Senator Udall’s tight re-election battle against Republican congressman Cory Gardner.
It also happens to be totally false.
As Denver television station KDVR reports, McKim has worked constantly over the past six years; from July 2008 through May 2010, she worked from home as the office manager for her husband’s company (which, evidently, wasn’t founded as a response to Obamacare). Since then, she has worked for Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy — which have donated $57,550 and $36,000 to Gardner’s campaign, respectively.
By McKim’s own admission, Obamacare didn’t actually drive her back into the workforce, as the ad claims.
“It wasn’t the Affordable Care Act,” she told KDVR. “It was just a financial burden, having a single income for so long.”
And, for good measure, McKim’s husband used to forgo health insurance because he suffers from high blood pressure — a pre-existing condition that made his insurance more expensive until the ACA became law.
This is far from the first time that Obamacare opponents have been forced to stretch the truth, flatly lie, or just give up and use paid actors to tell a scare story. Indeed, it begs the question: If the Affordable Care Act is really such a disastrous boondoggle, why couldn’t Crossroads — or the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, or even House Republican Conference chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers — find an actual victim?
In this case, the fact that Obamacare has helped cut Colorado’s uninsured rate by 6 percent might have something to do with it.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, August 8, 2014
“Sorry, Obamacare Denialists, You’re Insane”: Don’t Want To Be Called Ridiculous And Nutty, Stop Saying Ridiculous, Nutty Things
Conservative writer Philip Klein, who seems very nice, complains that liberals are being far too mean about the latest conservative attempt to gut Obamacare. “Liberal critics of this legal theory have portrayed it as absurd, ridiculous, nutty, stupid, and even criminal,” he writes. “Recently, I’ve been likened to the health policy equivalent of a World Trade Center attack conspiracy theorist merely for sympathetically reporting the legal case of the challengers.”
Not exactly. Klein is conflating two different things here. First, there’s the Halbig lawsuit, which hinges upon a strained, somewhat-exotic reading of the law to argue that the Affordable Care Act fails to create tax credits for people who buy their insurance through a federal exchange. The basis of this lawsuit is that the most explicit reference in the law mentions only state exchanges, and therefore courts ought to ignore all the other, less explicit parts of the law implying the opposite.
This is the case conservatives made for several years — Congress hastily failed to write a clear law, so conservative legal activists can take advantage of the screwup to interpret what (they argue, tendentiously but not insanely) is its literal reading. As the right-wing Investor’s Business Daily, an early booster of this once-long-shot legal challenge, gleefully put it in 2011, “Oops! No Obamacare Tax Credit for You!” I’m sorry, the card says “Moops.” I find this argument highly, highly unpersuasive. It’s been laughed out of court by Democratic-appointed judges, and rejected by at least one Republican judge. I will say this for it — it is at least tenuously connected to reality.
But now conservatives are making a different argument. They’re no longer saying that the lawsuit is exploiting a drafting error. They’re claiming it interprets the law correctly, and that the law actually (or possibly) intended to deny tax credits to people in federal exchanges. They have gone from smugly saying the card says “Moops” to insisting that the people who invaded Spain in the eighth century were actually called “the Moops.”
And yes, that is completely insane. There is a massive trove of evidence here regarding the intent of the law’s drafters. Dylan Scott has the latest chunk today — a deep excavation of the role of the Congressional Budget Office, which was a kind of legislative super-body regarded as authoritative by Congress. The CBO, like everybody involved in the law’s passage, believed the federal exchanges were designed to give health insurance to people in states that did not build their own. They were not designed as a deliberately unworkable punishment.
Yes, some smart people, speaking extemporaneously, were sometimes confused about just how the law worked. (Conservatives have made a great deal about off-the-cuff comments made by Jonathan Cohn before the law was actually finalized.) That doesn’t change the fact that the federal exchanges were obviously designed to give people affordable insurance. It may be mean to point out that those who argue otherwise are completely, manifestly ahistorical, but that’s just reality. If you don’t want to be called ridiculous and nutty, stop saying ridiculous, nutty things.
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, August 1, 2014
Halbig v. Burwell, the case in which opponents of the Affordable Care Act won a dramatic if temporary victory yesterday, has profound implications for millions of Americans’ health care. But it’s also a demonstration of a trend that is determining more and more of what our politics and our country are going to look like in future years.
We talk a lot about America being divided ideologically, with liberals and conservatives increasingly distrustful and dismissive of each other. But we’re also in the process of creating two different nations, where stepping across a state border means entering a society with profoundly different laws and policy goals. And Republicans may have just stumbled on a way to use the federal government to increase that division.
Both parties are driving this broad movement. In many Republican-controlled states, it’s now all but impossible for a woman to get an abortion; people are encouraged by the state government to bring their guns to church and into bars; and taxes are whittled away while social services are slashed. Democrats too have gotten more aggressive in places they control, on issues like raising the minimum wage, same-sex marriage, and legalizing marijuana.
But the challenges to the ACA have shown the Republicans a new path, a kind of federalized federalism, where they can not only make Red America a more conservative place through state laws, but exempt Red America from federal laws they don’t like.
This wasn’t part of a carefully laid-out plan. Initially Republicans were just using any and every means they could find to undermine the ACA, with the goal of destroying it completely. Though they failed to do that, they won their first significant (if partial) victory when the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of the law’s expansion of Medicaid, which meant that we have two different countries when it comes to health coverage for poor people. If you’re poor and you live in a blue state or one of the few red states that has accepted the expansion, you can get free health insurance. If not, you’re out of luck. See, for instance, this vivid New York Times article about the city of Texarkana, which lies half in Texas and half in Arkansas; whether you get health insurance is determined by which side of town you live in.
In the Halbig case, conservatives located a drafting error and pursued it for no reason other than that it looked like a promising vehicle for Republican-appointed judges to strike a blow at the law. Creating two different countries when it comes to the ACA wasn’t really the goal, but it could be the outcome.
Let’s imagine the Supreme Court upheld the D.C. Circuit panel’s decision. In the states that have already established state exchanges, nothing would change. With a few exceptions (like Kentucky and Idaho) these are blue states. Everywhere else, people would immediately lose the tax credits they received to buy insurance, reverting to the pre-ACA status quo. That means more people without insurance, and a system that is generally more cruel and unforgiving. The states that are Democratic-controlled or divided but haven’t yet set up an exchange, like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maine, would probably move to do so in order to restore those subsidies to their citizens. Once it all shook out, you’d have a situation in which, for all intents and purposes, the most consequential social legislation passed through Congress in nearly half a century was operative in only half the country.
If that were to happen (and maybe even if it doesn’t), Republicans are likely to see a new means to accomplish their policy goals on any number of issues. If you can’t repeal a federal law you don’t like, maybe you can have it apply only to Blue America. Get a few creative lawyers together, and you can come up with a rationale for a lawsuit to allow states to opt out of almost any law; few can deny now that no matter how thin the legal reed you hang such a suit on, there will always be conservative judges who will embrace your logic. We could see a proliferation of opt-out amendments in Congress, as each significant piece of legislation is accompanied by an effort to give Republican states the ability to exempt themselves.
And don’t be surprised if perpetually vulnerable red state Democrats end up supporting those amendments from time to time, so they can give their party the votes it needs to pass bills, but also tell the folks back home that they stood up for states’ rights.
In 1932, Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in a dissenting opinion:
It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.
But the assumption has always been that when states act as laboratories of democracy, they’re exploring different ways to arrive at common goals. Increasingly, liberals and conservatives can agree only on the most abstract goals, like prosperity and freedom, but on almost none of the specifics. With the ACA as an example, Washington could become the new laboratory of division, where federal legislation and federal lawsuits become the means to drive Red America and Blue America further apart.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Published in The Plum Line, The Washington Post, July 23, 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