A key organization in the Koch brothers’ political network has a tough new litmus test question for all the 2016 GOP hopefuls: If the Supreme Court guts Obamacare subsidies for millions of people in three dozen states, how firm a stand are you willing to take against extending them?
This suggests again that a Court decision nixing subsidies could spill over into the presidential race. Republicans may be vociferously challenged by conservatives to hold the line against any fix to subsidies that doesn’t also actively seek to destroy the whole Affordable Care Act, potentially dividing the GOP over its response to such a ruling.
In a piece entitled “25 questions the Koch brothers want every 2016 candidate to answer,” the Post’s James Hohmann scoops that the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the funding arm of the Koch brothers’ political network, has distributed a questionnaire to all the presidential candidates. Note this question:
Question #7: If repealed by the Supreme Court, would you support extending federal subsidies for health insurance in states without exchanges, even if it would extend individual and employer mandates?
Presuming the “correct” answer is No, this would appear to mean any fix to subsidies is a non-starter unless it repeals the individual mandate. House Republicans have signaled they will offer a temporary extension of the subsidies that also repeals the mandate (and indeed repeals all of Obamacare in 2017), to punt the political fallout from the vanishing of subsidies until after the election, while clearing the decks so Republicans can offer their own comprehensive health reform plan for the 2016 election. But repealing the mandate would severely undermine the law everywhere (and of course the GOP plan repeals Obamacare entirely in two years), making it a non-starter for President Obama and Democrats.
Republicans are offering this plan to draw a veto, in hopes of blaming Obama for the failure to extend subsidies. They will pair that argument with the claim that the law itself is at fault for all those millions of people losing them. The GOP argument is basically this: Obamacare is to blame for the awful outcome of millions of people losing Obamacare, so Republicans will protect all those people from Obamacare by temporarily restoring their Obamacare, before repealing it entirely for all its beneficiaries, and replacing it with … “oh, wow, look over there, a unicorn is wandering through the Capitol!”
This story-line is deeply incoherent and may prove a tough sell politically. More moderate Republicans may want to offer a real fix, or enter into negotiations over a solution in which both sides make genuine, workable concessions. But the above questionnaire suggests conservatives will demand the GOP do no such thing. (Another possibility: even if the Court upholds the subsidies by deferring to the administration’s discretion in interpreting the ACA, conservatives could demand that GOP candidates pledge to use that discretion as president to cancel them.)
Presumably the 2012 GOP hopefuls will find it hard to support any subsidies fix that doesn’t also hold out the promise of destroying the law. But Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio come from Florida, where 1.3 million people stand to lose subsidies. The situation in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin also threatens to get very messy. And lots of those who will get hurt are concentrated in the presidential battlegrounds. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has signaled she will go on offense against Republicans by demanding a simple fix to the problem.
* OBAMA TRADE AGENDA SET TO MOVE FORWARD? The Hill has the latest: Mitch McConnell is set to hold a Senate vote on the Fast Track bill the House passed yesterday, and then one on the Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers that Dems want. But the bloc of pro-trade Dems, which is worried that if they pass Fast Track, TAA won’t end up happening later, is holding out for concessions from McConnell, such as a vote reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.
McConnell is not inclined to make concessions. It’s looking as if pro-trade Senate Dems may back Fast Track and hoping GOP leaders make good on their vow to move worker assistance later.
* HILLARY TURNS UP HEAT ON TRADE: In a new interview, Hillary Clinton says that Fast Track is a non-starter unless it is also paired with TAA worker assistance:
“I certainly would not vote for it unless I was absolutely confident that we would get Trade Adjustment Assistance.”
Obama has said he wants to sign both Fast Track and TAA, but he hasn’t said explicitly that he won’t sign the former without the latter. Meanwhile, Clinton has still left wiggle room to support Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership later.
* IRAN DEAL NEAR? Reuters quotes western officials claiming that negotiators are “increasingly likely to clinch” a deal curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Iran negotiators reportedly have indicated that they will allow inspectors more access to the program than they’ve publicly admitted. But there are still major sticking points around the specificity to be permitted around technical limits on Iran’s future nuclear work.
A deal may not be secured by the June 30th deadline. But still, the big picture is that both sides badly want to reach one.
* COURT DECISION AGAINST ACA WILL HIT BATTLEGROUND STATES: Roll Call’s David Hawkings sheds still more light on this important point:
The biggest population affected would be in Florida, where 1 in 12 people younger than 65, or 1.3 million, are now getting federal help. The same is true for 3 percent or more of the adults in the likely presidential swing states of Michigan, Virginia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The final four states on that roster also have GOP senators anticipating competitive re-election contests. Altogether, 22 of the 24 Senate seats the GOP is defending next year are in states relying on the federal exchanges.
As Hawkings dryly notes, the GOP is “not quite ready for the health care victory its dreamed about.”
* SHOOTING SUSPECT ‘FLEW FLAGS OF WHITE POWER’: The New York Times takes a deep look into Dylann Storm Roof’s background, talking to friends who say he had begun to employ increasingly racist and violent rhetoric:
Officials said the shooting was being investigated as a hate crime. Although it was not clear if Mr. Roof had actually joined any organized white supremacist groups, people who knew him said that in recent months, a young man they described as extremely shy had begun to harbor racist views and make increasingly violent statements about attacking black people.
Meanwhile, Roof’s uncle says that if he receives the death penalty, he would “push the button myself.”
* HEADLINE OF THE DAY, ADVENTURES-IN-IMAGE-MANAGEMENT EDITION: “White Supremacists Worried Charleston Shooting Makes Them Look Bad.”
* AND JEB EMBRACES ‘VOODOO ECONOMICS’: Paul Krugman takes apart Jeb Bush’s promise to get growth up to four percent, the latest in a long line of GOP claims to possession of the secret growth formula. The actual history:
The next time you encounter some conservative going on about growth, you might want to bring up the following list of names and numbers: Bill Clinton, 3.7; Ronald Reagan, 3.4; Barack Obama, 2.1; George H.W. Bush, 2.0; George W. Bush, 1.6. Yes, that’s the last five presidents — and the average rate of growth of the U.S. economy during their time in office (so far, in Mr. Obama’s case). Obviously, the raw numbers don’t tell the whole story, but surely there’s nothing in that list to suggest that conservatives possess some kind of miracle cure for economic sluggishness.
But but but Awesome Rocket-Fueled Reagan Recovery! Also, as Krugman notes, all signs are that Jeb is embracing “voodoo economics,” an epithet coined by none other than his father.