(Bloomberg View) — We don’t know whether the Supreme Court’s decision in the King case will be to take away subsidies for people who signed up for insurance through healthcare.gov, the exchanges. If that is what happens, however, the legislative politics of a fix are increasingly clear.
The case is about whether Congress did or didn’t authorize the Affordable Care Act to contain the same set of subsidies for people in states using federally run exchanges as it does for those in states that run their own exchanges. If the court rules against the Obama administration, millions of people in more than half of the states will lose subsidies and may drop their insurance. Even worse, if (as is likely) healthy people flee and those with immediate medical needs remain, the markets in those states could collapse as insurance companies raise premiums to make up for the lost customers.
So if Republicans win, they create an ugly mess. Moreover, it’s a mess that could be completely fixed with a one-page bill that would make clear that subsidies are available in all states. But most Republicans don’t want to pass a one-page fix; the whole point of the suit was to create the mess.
Republicans have already signaled (as the Plum Line’s Greg Sargent detailed) that their basic strategy will be to pass something combining the one-page fix (probably with a time limit set after the 2016 election) with some partial repeal of Obamacare, and then dare the president to veto it.
The first question is whether they can even get that far. Few if any Democrats would vote for a bill that combines, say, the restoration of subsidies with the repeal of the individual mandate. Some Republicans, on the other hand, would prefer policy chaos, even if they take the blame, to anything that could be interpreted as support for (or even worse “saving”) Obamacare. And then, as Karl Rove points out, even those who want to follow the hostage-taking strategy can’t agree on the demands to make.
Suppose, however, that they manage to pass a measure and Barack Obama vetoes it.