Scott Walker has now supplied yet another piece of evidence that Republicans will likely find themselves unable or unwilling to act if the Supreme Court guts Obamacare subsidies for millions in three dozen states. In the process, he’s illustrated how such a Court ruling will likely set in motion a mad frenzy of buck-passing among Republicans over what to do about all those people — and how that might spill over into the 2016 presidential race.
A spokesperson for Walker has now confirmed that should the Court rule that way, he will not view it as the state’s responsibility to fix the problem that results — and instead says that responsibility will fall to the federal government.
Before we get to the significance of that, some background. As it stands now, some 185,000 Wisconsinites have been declared eligible for subsidies, and many of them could conceivably see subsidies taken away by the Court. But in Wisconsin, an anti-ACA ruling could have particularly dicey political implications for Walker, because of the way the state has approached the Affordable Care Act. As Joshua Green recently explained:
Of the Republican presidential contenders, no one has more at stake than Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Led by Walker, Wisconsin declined the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and opted against creating a state-based exchange to provide access to health insurance, relying instead on the federal exchange. This means that should the court side with the King challenger, residents of Wisconsin…will lose the subsidies that make their insurance affordable….
Walker will be in a tougher spot because his own health-care plan also removed 83,000 people from BadgerCare (Wisconsin’s Medicaid program) and directed them to seek coverage the federal exchange. In Wisconsin, these people are called “transitioners,” since they’re transitioning into the private market…
Walker will find himself in an especially difficult position. He’ll have to come up with a way to help the roughly 185,000 Wisconsinites who will lose their subsidies. And in addition, he’ll be personally culpable for the 83,000 low-income transitioners who would not have been affected by a court decision had he left them on Medicaid, but would now lose their subsidies and probably their health insurance.
Click through to Green’s story for the necessary caveats and nuances, but the basic situation is that Walker could be directly on the political hook for the plight of many of these people. Couldn’t Walker and fellow GOP lawmakers simply set up an exchange? Last month they were uncertain how they intend to proceed.
But now National Journal’s Dylan Scott has gotten a clearer answer from a Walker spokesperson:
“While we continue to monitor the federal court case and the pending outcome later this year, ultimately, the responsibility rests with the federal government to fix this federal law,” Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said.
It’s not on Walker; it’s on the feds. This answer is very similar to the one offered recently by Florida Governor Rick Scott: “This is a federal program, it’s a federal problem.”
Florida, by the way, stands to take a bigger hit than any other state if the Court guts subsidies: Nearly 1.5 million Floridians have been declared eligible for them. Two leading GOP presidential contenders — Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio — come from Florida. One of these days they’ll be asked to weigh in on what’s next. And they probably won’t want to advocate for any fix. As Philip Klein points out, the realities of GOP primary politics may constrain Republicans from doing that. The candidates may all be competing to prove just how deep their anti-Obamacare zeal runs.
At the same time, though, Republicans will presumably want to avoid blame for failing to act to stem any disruptions that an anti-ACA ruling unleashes. Remember, this isn’t just about people losing insurance; health wonks and industry stakeholders are warning of imploding insurance markets and even economic disruptions. Thus, it’s reasonable to anticipate a fair amount of blame-shifting. Congressional Republicans are working overtime to convey the impression that they are willing to participate in a contingency fix, but their proposals, such as they are, contain no specifics. Yet governors like Scott Walker and Rick Scott are already claiming it’s on Congress, and not on them, to act.
The question of whether Republicans will participate in any effort to soften the disruptions of an anti-ACA ruling is also on the radars of the conservative Justices deciding Obamacare’s fate. (Such disruptions could conceivably have actual legal significance, given Anthony Kenney’s concerns about how the consequences for states raise federalism concerns.) During oral arguments, Antonin Scalia declared that surely Congress will act to mitigate “disastrous consequences,” while Samuel Alito floated the idea of delaying the ruling to the end of the year, presumably to buy time to find a stopgap solution.
But Scalia’s suggestion of Congressional action was practically laughed out of the Court. And any fix from GOP state lawmakers will perhaps grow less likely, not more, as GOP primary season fires up conservative voters. Walker is already passing the buck to the feds. Why would he be more likely to act later this year, when 2016 is right around the corner?