Poll: Americans Want Congress to 'Fix' Obamacare Flaw if SCOTUS Sides with Conservatives

Posted: Jan 29, 2015 3:01 PM

new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that a large majority of Americans would want Congress to fix Obamacare's subsidy eligibility flaw if the US Supreme Court sides with conservative challengers (by embracing Jonathan Gruber's hastily-discarded argument) this spring.  Here's Allahpundit's helpful primer on the issues at play:

There’s a section in the ObamaCare statute that says federal subsidies to pay premiums are available to anyone who buys their insurance through “an Exchange established by the State.” But that phrase is vaguely worded. Is the federalObamaCare exchange, Healthcare.gov, an exchange established by the state? Or was the idea that subsidies should apply only to exchanges created by the individual states, as an economic incentive to encourage state governments to create their own insurance marketplaces? You know what Jonathan Gruber thinks, or thought, about that. By this summer, we’ll know what John Roberts and the gang think too. If subsidies for federal consumers are suddenly illegal, people who can’t afford the unsubsidized premiums will begin dropping their plans and bailing out of the program. The whole scheme could collapse. Which puts Mitch McConnell and John Boehner in a spot. If SCOTUS sides with conservatives and ends up nuking subsidies for millions of federal exchange consumers, this hot potato will land squarely in their laps.

And here are Kaiser's findings:

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they'd want Congress to step in and fix what Democrats will misleadingly call a "typo," ensuring that Obamacare enrollees aren't denied taxpayer subsidies on a technicality -- which would lead to collapsing healthcare markets in the effected states. We anticipated this thorny political predicament late last year when SCOTUS decided to take up this case.  Many conservatives will demand that Boehner and McConnell effectively do nothing, which would help ruin Obamacare....but it would also be massively unpopular with the general public.  Democrats would step in with shrill, and likely effective, demagoguery, and Republicans would be targeted with anti-Obamacare anger for the first time.  Here's the basic structure of the plan I floated in November:

Not responding isn't a viable option. My suggestion -- and this is just early stage spitballing -- is for the GOP to consider offering a package of "fixes" that includes the rudimentary change for which Democrats will be howling (remember, this all assumes that repeal/replace was already attempted and blocked by Obama). Included in the package deal would be a series of alterations to the law that Republicans have been seeking for some time, that are very popular with the public, and that would ultimately serve to undermine the law. For instance, eliminating the individual mandate tax, restoring the 40-hour work week, and repealing the medical device tax. The GOP would have real leverage and popular opinion at their backs on these points. Message: "Because we care about the people who are once again getting screwed by Obamacare, we're willing to make the fix President Obama is demanding. But while we're at it, we must make some other necessary changes that enjoy broad popular support. This is what compromise looks like in divided government, which is what the American people decisively voted for. And in case you've forgotten, American, we've been against this trainwreck from the start, and we've since passed a much better alternative, which the president has stubbornly vetoed."

Executing this play, or something like it, would reverse some of the political pressure dynamics. Obama and the Democrats would have to decide whether they're willing to reject the fix they're vociferously demanding in order to kill popular additional "fixes" to the law. Conservatives could benefit from whatever decision is made. If Obama vetoes the package, Republicans can hammer away at him, credibly casting him as the recalcitrant, uncaring ideologue. At the very least, they'd have a strong, easily-explained counterpunch argument at their disposal that would complicate Democrats' turnkey spin. If Obama begrudgingly signs it (which I suspect is unlikely), the GOP walks away with a string of policy victories that weaken the overall law.

Remember, there are lots of Americans who want significant pieces of the law repealed.  Republicans could aim to pluck the lowest hanging fruit as part of a deal, and mitigate their political dilemma in the process.  While I'm certainly sympathetic to the contention that trying to bargain with Obama while his law is self-destructing would be a betrayal of principle, conservatives cannot afford to ignore the consequences of inaction: They'd get hammered for doing and offering nothing, plus the core of the law would still remain in place, just waiting for that easy "fix," to get the subsidies flowing again.  It might be worth sustaining a major political hit if enduring the PR furor would lead to the law's repeal, but it wouldn't.  And Democrats would finally have a popular, pro-Obamacare cause on which to campaign.  For now, though, the law is still unpopular -- and will likely remain so for some time.  The ranks of those who believe they're unaffected by the law will dwindle considerably as one central Obamacare promise keeps blowing up in millions of consumers' faces for years to come:

Thanks to ObamaCare, the CBO now expects that 10 million workers will lose their employer-based coverage by 2021. This finding stands in sharp contrast to earlier CBO projections, which at one point suggested ObamaCare would increase the number of people getting coverage through work, at least in its early years. The budget office has, in fact, increased the number it says will lose workplace coverage every year since 2011.

"If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.” I'll leave you with this chart from Investors Business Daily displays how the Congressional Budget Office's (whose Obamacare and deficit findings we discussed yesterday) projections have worsened over time on lost employer coverage and the number of insured Americans under the law: