The alternative was, to be sure, politically unpalatable. The administration could have gone back to Congress and asked it to authorize subsidies in states with federal exchanges. House Republicans, now in the majority, would have demanded other changes in the law.
So today the strongest argument for upholding the administration's reckless regulation is that people might be hurt if the law is enforced as written. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest says Congress meant to give money to lots of people -- so who cares what the law actually says?
The irony here is that the Obama Democrats, in passing Obamacare in its present form, and in betting that it could pressure the states into doing their will, have discredited big government generally and have weakened the federal government's power to commandeer and control the states.
They expected Obamacare to be popular. Give people what Mitt Romney called "free stuff," and they'll be grateful.
It hasn't turned out that way. Most Americans have bridled at Obamacare's centralized command-and-control approach and have instinctively preferred more market-based or locally regulated alternatives.
The fiasco of the healthcare.gov rollout and the administration's multiple suspensions of various provisions of the law have sapped confidence in big government's competence.
On the legal front, it has generally escaped notice that in its NFIB v. Sebelius decision upholding Obamacare, the Supreme Court also invalidated its Medicaid provisions -- and by a 7-2 vote that is unlikely to be overturned by one or two new Democratic-appointed justices.
Obamacare provided that states must accept new Medicaid provisions requiring higher spending or lose all their federal Medicaid money altogether. Not valid, said the justices. Congress can't take command of state governments by threatening to cut them off if they don't spend more.
Few legal experts thought this challenge to the statute would prevail. But it did, and it provides a basis for discouraging or challenging any future massive expansion of federal programs that require, as most do, matching spending by the states.
The Obama Democrats have succeeded in expanding government, temporarily. But they've also discredited it and provided a basis for limiting it in the future.