Obamacare has eliminated choices for millions of families, suffocated patient-centered medical innovation, and moved the United States closer to European-style centralized planning. The Supreme Court heard King v. Burwell this week, and if it sides with the rule of law this June, we may be one step closer to a full repeal of Obamacare. Let’s keep our eye on the ball: Complete repeal is our goal and everything we do between now and the 2016 presidential election must strengthen our chances to accomplish this. Obamacare cannot be fixed and Republicans must not extend this disastrous legislation.
We must be particularly strategic after a court case that is promising but also fraught with peril.
The Obama administration, true to form, unilaterally rewrote the law, declaring that “state exchange” somehow also means federal exchange. Because of this lawlessness, people in states that rejected participation in Obamacare have received subsidies to buy insurance products that many did not want. (Millions of Americans lost the coverage of the plans they wanted to keep when Obamacare destroyed the individual market.)
After listening to the oral arguments this week, I’m prudently optimistic that the court will strike down these illegal Obamacare subsidies. But here’s the administration’s next battle in our ongoing war: 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.
Those in Congress who, like me, oppose Obamacare cannot sit by and let the governors twist in the wind. We must help them do the principled thing while helping those most affected by the administration’s illegal actions. We cannot let Obamacare expand geographically by setting up state exchanges, nor can we extend Obamacare’s unlawful subsidies. The former would rubber-stamp Obamacare state-by-state and the latter would baptize the unlawful actions of the Obama administration.
If Congress extends Obamacare by keeping the subsidies, it would be raising taxes by reinstituting the individual mandate for those freed by the Court’s decision and by resurrecting the employer mandate. Governor Bobby Jindal (R., La.) made this point recently on National Review Online when he wrote that “restoring the flow of subsidies means restoring the employer mandate, thus raising taxes.” He is absolutely right that we cannot restore the flow of Obamacare subsidies and the associated taxes and mandates.
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.
Using that mechanism, the Winding Down Obamacare Act provides temporary assistance of 65 percent of the cost of Obamacare policies for six months. Because we cannot allow this to be a new permanent subsidy or to be extended repeatedly (like the so-called “doc fix”) it must start winding down gradually and end altogether by the end of 18 months.
My Senate colleague Ted Cruz (R., Texas) takes a similar approach in his full-repeal bill that I have co-sponsored, which would allow subsidies to flow for six months, to minimize disruptions until better choices are available for families.
The six-month clock will put pressure on Congress to consider alternative proposals in the months following King. Ideally Congress can offer real solutions to our health-care crisis while ensuring that this new temporary financial assistance does not become permanent dependence.
By providing help for Americans who could suffer another “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” bait-and-switch, this proposal would freeze Obamacare. First, it would help governors resist new state exchanges by providing temporary transitional assistance. Second, there would be no new people signing up for subsidies in the states that remain out of Obamacare.
Among Republicans on the Hill, including committee leaders on both sides of the Capitol, there is no shortage of interest in helping the victims of Obamacare. The Winding Down Obamacare Act can help our most vulnerable neighbors, and afford Congress time to put forward new patient-centered solutions.
This is a strategic step toward our steadfast goal of fully repealing Obamacare, and beginning immediately to enact longer-term solutions.
— Ben Sasse is a Republican U.S. senator from Nebraska.