In the movie "Grosse Pointe Blank," one professional killer is protecting a target from another professional killer when he says the other hitman is either in love with the purported victim’s daughter “or he has a newfound respect for life.” It’s a comedy (and a good one), so the second hitman is in love the guy’s daughter. No newfound respect for life at all.
I thought of that quote when I heard White House Spokesman Josh Earnest say, “It is pretty obvious what the congressional intent was.” He was talking about the D.C. Court of Appeals ruling that Obamacare subsidies apply only to states that set up exchanges because, well, that’s what the text of the Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act says. The Obama administration, it seems, has a newfound respect for the intent of lawmakers.
As George Will pointed out back in January, “Four words that threaten disaster for the ACA say the subsidies shall be available to persons who purchase health insurance in an exchange ‘established by the state.’” Many states did not set up health care exchanges, so residents there went to the federal exchange. Despite progressives’ best efforts, there is still a difference between the two.
This system of subsidies for state exchanges was created to pressure states to play ball, to set up exchanges because there was a pot of taxpayer-subsidized gold at the end of that rainbow. But many states refused, much to the administration’s chagrin.
That refusal forced the Obama administration to have the IRS “re-interpret” those four words to mean any exchange, state or federal. That’s not what the law says, but Earnest insists it is was what lawmakers meant.
Earnest isn’t alone, progressives in politics and the media immediately started insisting this was a “drafting error” Democrats meant to fix after the law was signed. Only they made it consistently throughout the bill and didn’t address this issue, they didn’t “fix” it. And the IRS didn’t bother attempting to “fix” it until 2011, 16 months after passage. If it was so important and obvious, why wait that long?
As Nancy Pelosi put it at the time, “We have to pass the bill, so you can find out what is in it away from the fog of the controversy.” The fog has lifted, we see what is in it, and it is an unpopular and unequivocal mess.
Of course it was never meant be “fixed” because it was not a mistake. It says what Congress meant – it says subsidies apply only to state exchanges and was written to pressure states to comply. It was a game of chicken Democrats consciously chose to play, and they lost.
Another appeals court ruled the opposite way on the same day, so this all eventually will be resolved by the Supreme Court (yet again). But the reaction of progressives, especially the White House, to the D.C. court is both amusing and telling.
Earnest’s interest in the “intent” of Congress is particularly amusing considering just a couple of weeks ago the administration went all-in on the concept of following the letter of the law on immigration when it comes to unaccompanied illegal alien kids flooding the southern border.
On the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, the Obama administration is following the law as written, not as intended. As I wrote at the time, “The children the law intended to protect – potential victims of perverted sex traffickers – are not who is flooding the border now, and the administration knows it. Still, it is using its provisions to slow the process and keep illegal aliens on U.S. soil.” But the administration is applying it as written – slowing the process to increase the odds they stay in the country permanently.
Even the author of the legislation, Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said, “That law already provides the administration with flexibility to accelerate the judicial process in times of crisis. The administration should use that flexibility to speed up the system while still treating these children humanely, with compassion and respect.”
But no. The Obama administration, remember, follows the letter of the law, not its intent.
The Obama administration has a long history of picking not only which laws it will enforce, but how it will enforce them. That the president’s spokesman is now citing the intent of a law after ignoring others in the past means they either have a newfound respect for it, or they simply don’t give a damn about anything beyond their agenda.