The most important political event today was not the Donald Trump/House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pantomime, but rather, a critical court ruling against the administration on Obamacare. Reuters reports:

A U.S. judge on Thursday handed a victory to congressional Republicans who challenged the implementation of a provision of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law involving reimbursements from the government to private health insurers.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, based in Washington, ruled that the Obama administration cannot spend funds Congress did not appropriate in reimbursing insurance companies for reductions they are required to make under the law to customers’ out-of-pocket medical payments.

Ryan appeared to be ecstatic. In a written statement, he declared: “This is an historic win for the Constitution and the American people. The court ruled that the administration overreached by spending taxpayer money without approval from the people’s representatives. Here, the executive branch is being held accountable to We the People, and that’s why this decision is very good news.” Since Ryan had just stressed in his post-Trump presser the importance of restraint on the executive branch as a key component of conservatism, the timing could not have been better.

Confirming that some principles do unite conservatives, FreedomWorks, which has often sided with rebels in the House, sounded a similar note: “No administration can spend money that is not explicitly appropriated by the legislative branch. The Constitution is explicitly clear on this. The Obama administration, of course, has developed a lawless and shameful proclivity for going around Congress to implement its agenda, with no regard for the constitutional separation of powers. We’re pleased with this ruling, and we hope that it will stand as this case works its way through federal courts.”

As we look ahead to a new president, the ruling has potentially long-range implications. “There are many distortions of the executive power that President Obama has gotten away with, thanks to willing bureaucrats, delay in the courts and paralysis in Congress,” emails conservative legal scholar John Yoo. “But one fundamental ‘red line’ of our Constitution is that only Congress can decide how federal money is to be spent. Obama becomes the first President after Nixon to lose in court for trying to spend money in defiance of Congress’s appropriations, and deservedly so.”

As a practical matter, the ruling, if upheld, poses a new threat to the viability of Obamacare, which has already been rocked by the exit of numerous insurers from the exchanges and co-op failures. Costs for insurers are rising as the adverse selection problem becomes more acute, and as more exit, competition decreases. Premiums go still higher. Congress will have the power to deny cost-sharing (i.e. subsidies) to the remaining insurers, and thereby push the system closer to the brink of collapse. Alternatively, a Democratic Congress with a compliant president could simply shovel more taxpayer money to keep the insurers in the system.

The ruling, which is temporarily stayed, reminds us that under the next president, Obamacare is likely to be changed significantly — either in the direction Republicans want (toward a free-market, consumer-based system) or in the direction of a single-payer system (which Trump, frankly, sounds as though he would support). In its current form, Obamacare’s long-term prospects are poor.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a top contender for a third-party run, weighed in briefly, “Here’s what the court just said on ObamaCare: America still has three branches of government and the President cannot rewrite the law — even if it is his namesake.” Unfortunately, if a president ideologically or for the sake of a “deal” wants to keep propping up Obamacare and a Democratic-controlled Congress goes along, Obamacare will live on. Elections matter — and this upcoming one matters more than most.