Who Will Be Blamed If Court Guts Obamacare

Jonathan ChaitThe first question Republicans have to decide is, should the Court decide in their favor, do they need to do anything at all? The lawsuit would eliminate tax credits for residents of some 34 states, depending on what definition is used, whose health-care exchange is run by the federal government. This would, for the first time, bring Republicans face to face with the political fallout of taking away actual health care from current, rather than prospective, beneficiaries of Obamacare.

The most ideologically hard-core elements of the party have tried to make the case that Republicans should do nothing at all. One libertarian organization commissioned a poll designed to show that voters would not blame Republicans for doing nothing in the face of massive suffering. The poll has an unusually blunt method for producing this result. It asks, in the event the lawsuit is successful, whom voters would blame. The choices are: Congress, for poorly writing the law; the IRS, for giving out illegal subsidies in the first place; States, for refusing to establish Obamacare exchanges; unsure.

Notice that, even aside from the loaded terms (“poorly writing,” “illegal”), none of those choices allows voters to blame the current, Republican-run Congress for failing to fix the law. The only “Congress” voters can blame is the old Democratic one that wrote the law in 2009–10. The poll does prove that the public will not blame Republicans in Congress if it is given a fixed menu of choices, of which blaming the Republican Congress is not one.

Most actual Republicans in Congress realize, however, that this is not how political debates really work. In the real world, voters are allowed to blame you for stuff if they want to. An Associated Press poll finds that Americans by a 56–39 margin would want the tax credits to continue to be extended to all 50 states, even if the lawsuit prevails. As Republican Senator Ben Sasse warned several months ago, in a column urging his party to unite behind his plan, “Chemotherapy turned off for perhaps 12,000 people, dialysis going dark for 10,000. The horror stories will be real.” Obama would be able to urge Congress to simply fix the confusion by passing a law reaffirming that customers in federal exchanges are also eligible for tax credits.

—Jonathan Chait
The Obamacare Lawsuit Is a Government Shutdown, but for Health Care

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