The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Morning Plum: Inside GOP’s strategy for coming war over Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision

Republicans continue to insist they will have a contingency plan for the millions who might lose health coverage if the Supreme Court guts subsidies. But it looks increasingly like Republicans know their fix isn’t going to happen — and that purporting to offer one is merely about laying the groundwork for the intense political fight that may follow, in hopes of gaining a better political position not only against President Obama, but against Hillary Clinton.

The Hill reports today that Republicans are showing a whole lot of bravado about the aftermath of a Court ruling against the law. They’ve even drawn up demands they will make in exchange for agreeing to keep subsidies going — which you are meant to see as a willingness to “strike a deal”:

Republicans believe a Supreme Court ruling against ObamaCare this summer would give them leverage to force President Obama to scrap the healthcare law’s central pillars.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who is leading the Senate GOP’s response to King v. Burwell, said Republicans will be willing to strike a deal with Obama to ensure that the 7.5 million people who stand to lose their subsidies are protected, at least until the 2016 elections. But in return, they would demand that Obama to do something he has long resisted: nix the employer and individual mandates for insurance coverage.
“Is the president going to say, ‘Tough, I’m going to veto that’?” Barrasso said in an interview in his Dirksen office. “There will be, as part of that [deal], things we want to have happen.”

That quote is revealing. Yes, Obama probably would veto a bill that kills the individual mandate in exchange for temporarily keeping subsidies going. And I’m going to suggest not only that Barrasso knows this, but that Republicans are building their post-King political strategy around this likely outcome.

On substance: It’s unclear whether Barrasso’s plan would keep the ban on discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions. But other GOP contingency plans would. According to Larry Levitt, that plus eliminating the individual mandate could drive up premiums, meaning people would either have to pay more or you’d need higher subsidies to make up the difference — more government spending.

On the politics: It’s unlikely most states would act to fix the problem in the near term, as Nicholas Bagley demonstrates. And Republicans themselves worry that if the Court guts subsidies, Democrats will use the optics of sick people losing health care against them. A number of key swing presidential swing states are home to high numbers of people who could see subsidies evaporate. Clinton could use this outcome to campaign against the GOP, turning the argument into a referendum on whether we should continue Obamacare’s coverage expansion and calling Republicans out for having no serious long-term alternative. Thus, a ruling for King dramatically ratchets up the stakes in the health care debate heading into 2016.

The GOP’s best hope for winning the political fight that would unfold may reside in a presidential veto of their “contingency plan.” They can say they tried to offer a fix for the millions who are losing health care, but Obama blocked it, because he’s too stubborn to let go of the tyranny (the individual mandate) at the heart of his signature domestic achievement.

The irony of this whole thing is that the bill Republicans would offer to fix the problem, in addition to spiking the mandate, would likely include a simple one-sentence fix to the subsidy problem. Indeed, one GOP bill — the one offered by Senator Ron Johnson — actually does contain such a one-sentence fix, thus showing how easy it is to make this whole mess go away. Obama and Democrats will point this out rather loudly if and when the post-King political war gets going.


* CONGRESS MAY FINALLY END NSA BULK SURVEILLANCE: The New York Times reports that the U.S.A. Freedom Act, which would end bulk surveillance, is gathering momentum in the Senate against Mitch McConnell, now that it overwhelmingly passed the House Judiciary Committee and appears headed for House passage. The alliances:

The debate has resulted in a highly unusual alliance of House Speaker John A. Boehner, the White House, the Tea Party and a bipartisan majority in the House. They are in opposition to Mr. McConnell, his Intelligence Committee chairman, and a small group of defense hawks. In addition, two Republican presidential candidates in the Senate, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have made it clear they will not accept a straight extension of the current Patriot Act.

As noted the other day, there are a confluence of reasons why the left-right alliance against bulk surveillance finally stands a decent chance of winning one this time.

* THE LATEST ON FREDDIE GRAY INVESTIGATION: The Post reports on what the internal Baltimore police investigation into the death of Freddie Gray has uncovered so far, based on an anonymous law enforcement official:

One wound occurred when Gray struck his head on a bolt that jutted out in the van, the official said, but that was not Gray’s only head injury. And the injuries overall are consistent with what medical examiners often see in car collisions, the official said…Police say his legs were shackled and he wasn’t wearing a seat belt, which authorities say was a violation of policy. They said officers ignored his pleas for medical help.

A collision may be what caused his death?

* McCONNELL SIGNALS DEBT CEILING FIGHT, SORT OF: Politico talks to Mitch McConnell and gets this:

He signaled that the GOP wouldn’t roll over when it comes time to raise the national debt ceiling later this year. “I always think a debt ceiling is a good tool to carry something,” McConnell said when asked if he’d heed White House demands to keep the measure free of restrictions. “I hope we can add something to it.”

Yeah, okay. Maybe this time around we can finally stop pretending the debt ceiling gives Republicans any real leverage?

* JEB JOINS REPUBLICANS IN OPPOSING IRAN DEAL: David Drucker reports that Jeb Bush has now said he would undo any Iran deal as president, though he offered a slight qualification:

Asked directly during a question and answer session if he would cancel the deal if he’s elected president in 2016, Bush said: “If it’s in the security interests of the United States, absolutely.”

If? If? But anything negotiated by Obama will of course be contrary to the security interests of the United States. Seriously, Bush here joins Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, both of whom have pledged to undo any Iran deal immediately.

* REPUBLICANS GRAPPLE WITH IRAN BILL MESS: Politico reports on the mess inside the Senate: With Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton using procedural maneuvers to force votes on amendments that would “toughen up” the Corker bill creating a framework for a Congressional vote on an Iran deal, Mitch McConnell may have no choice but to cut off the amendment process. That’s because, if Rubio and Cotton were to succeed, Obama would veto the final bill and enough Dems would drop off to deny a veto-proof majority.

Thus, Rubio and Cotton risk killing the Corker bill, which could make an eventual Iran deal more likely. Brilliant!

* JEB’S REAL RECORD ON INEQUALITY: National Journal has a good piece comparing Jeb Bush’s current rhetoric on inequality to his actual policy positions and his record as Florida governor:

So far, he’s advocating the same economic policies he pushed as governor of Florida: cutting taxes and rolling back regulations on industry….Bush pushed through tax cuts for corporations and wealthy investors — a group that made up, with rare exceptions, the richest 5 percent of Floridians. At the same time, Bush’s cuts to the state’s tax base shifted much of the burden of paying for schools to locally collected property taxes, which critics say disproportionately hurt middle-class homeowners and renters.

The 2016 GOP hopefuls know they have to care about stalled economic mobility and opportunity, but all signs are they remain wedded to the dogma that the primary cause of those things is big government.