One of the favorite hobbies of liberals is warning Republicans about the supposed political dangers of repealing Obamacare. The latest iteration of this particular liberal fantasy comes via the communist agitprop rag Salon, which warns ominously that if the Supreme Court eliminates subsidies in the states that do not have their own exchanges, that “SCOTUS could roil the GOP: How the new threat to Obamacare could backfire on the right.”
The author of the piece, Simon Maloy, is clearly not a lawyer, because like all the other partisan hacks on the left who don’t have an inkling of legal training but suddenly find themselves to be authoritative experts on canons of statutory interpretation, he treats the plaintiffs’ arguments in King v. Burwell as non-serious legal challenges which may yet appeal to the political leanings of the Supreme Court’s five conservative justices. As we have covered here extensively before, the exact opposite is in fact true: legally speaking this is practically an open and shut case for the King v. Burwell plaintiffs (those who want the Federal subsidies struck down), and only the fact that striking down the federal subsidies would create a political controversy might save them. But I digress.
The substance of the warning given to us by our helpful friends at Salon shows just how much ignorance the average pundit who is pooh poohing this challenge even has about the law that he is purportedly defending:
But it’s not at all that simple. The biggest political challenge facing the GOP is the fact that “repealing” or otherwise damaging the Affordable Care Act, while ideologically satisfying, carries with it some very real consequences. The states that opted not to create their own health exchanges – the states that would lose their health insurance subsidies if SCOTUS rules against the government – are mostly Republican-governed states. The sudden unavailability of those tax credits would mean that a lot of newly insured people in those states would no longer be able to afford their health coverage. They will expect their elected officials to do something to mitigate the damage, which would be catastrophic. Close to 5 million people across the country would see their health insurance costs spike.
That would pose an awkward situation for Republicans in the statehouses and Congress: Do they stick to their ideologically acceptable rigid opposition to Obamacare, or do they work to fix the law? Congress has the ability (if not the willingness) to pass a quick legislative fix to solve the problems. Governors could agree to set up exchanges within the state to keep the subsidies flowing. These are the simplest paths to resolving the issue, and there would be intense pressure to get either or both done.
I guess that might at least possibly be true if we posited a universe in which the subsidies in question existed in isolation. However, the simple fact is that they do not. For those who are eligible for the subsidy, the individual mandate’s penalty is conditioned upon receipt of the subsidy. Thus, if the subsidies are struck down, it is correct that huge numbers of Americans would lose their subsidies, but they would immediately be exempt from the individual mandate.
It is one thing to note that after all this time Obamacare remains incredibly unpopular. Actual public opinion polling shows that the public’s opinion is considerably more nuanced on this issue and that certain provisions of the law are very popular while others are not. But what the polling has consistently shown is that specifically, what is dragging down Obamacare’s popularity overall is the individual mandate penalty, which is far and away the most unpopular part (and widely known) feature of the law.
There may well be some unfortunate consequences of undoing the federal subsidies from the standpoint of the workability of the law itself, but negative public response will definitely not be one of them. In fact, it is hard to imagine, at least from a purely political standpoint, a more desirable result than having the individual mandate kicked out from under the law for a sizeable portion of America. The natural consequence of this is that millions of Americans will happily be freed from the mandate, whereas those who remain subject to it will likely see their premiums spike as a result, which will consequently make the law yet more unpopular in the eyes of the American public.
Liberals, please stop trying to tell us not to throw you in the Obamacare briar patch. We know good and well there isn’t one.