The Corner

WH on Obamacare Ruling: Letter of the Law Doesn’t Matter

President Obama’s spokesman said that courts need to “evaluat[e] the intent of Congress” rather than the text of Obamacare when hearing the Justice Department’s appeal of a D.C. Circuit Court panel’s decision to struck down an IRS regulation critical to the operation of the health care law.

“What the courts are charged with doing is evaluating the intent of Congress and the intent of Congress in this case is not just clear, it’s transparent,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest replied when ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked if “the letter of the law matter[s] to the White House on this.”

The D.C. Circuit Court panel ruled that the federal government cannot provide subsidies for health insurance plans purchased through federal exchanges because the law says that subsidies are only available in exchanges set up by individual states.

“The fact is that the legislative record provides little indication one way or the other of congressional intent, but the statutory text does,” the court ruled. ”Section 36B plainly makes subsidies available only on Exchanges established by states. And in the absence of any contrary indications, that text is conclusive evidence of Congress’s intent.”

The court “reach[ed] this conclusion, frankly, with reluctance,” according the opinion.“At least until states that wish to can set up Exchanges, our ruling will likely have significant consequences both for the millions of individuals receiving tax credits through federal Exchanges and for health insurance markets more broadly,” the judges concluded.  “But, high as those stakes are, the principle of legislative supremacy that guides us is higher still. Within constitutional limits, Congress is supreme in matters of policy, and the consequence of that supremacy is that our duty when interpreting a statute is to ascertain the meaning of the words of the statute duly enacted through the formal legislative process. This limited role serves democratic interests by ensuring that policy is made by elected, politically accountable representatives, not by appointed, life-tenured judges.”

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