That’s why this report from CNN is rather interesting:
Attorney General William Barr made a last-minute push Monday to persuade the administration to modify its position in the Obamacare dispute that will be heard at the Supreme Court this fall, arguing that the administration should pull back from its insistence that the entire law be struck down.With a Wednesday deadline to make any alterations to its argument looming, Barr made his case in a room with Vice President Mike Pence, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, members of the Domestic Policy Council, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and several other officials. The meeting ended without a decision and it was not immediately not clear if any shift in the Trump administration’s position will emerge.
This lawsuit, initiated by multiple Republican states, seeks to have the entire Affordable Care Act struck down, which would immediately cost 20 million people their health coverage and mean that somewhere between 50 million and 130 million would lose protections for preexisting conditions, among other things.
This is not a new position for Barr, who may be a Trump lickspittle but has enough political sense to realize what a catastrophe it would be for the GOP if the lawsuit succeeds. It does not appear that the rest of Trump’s crackerjack team of political savants agrees, even in the midst of a pandemic. The prospect of striking down the ACA is too enticing.
This lawsuit was a humanitarian disaster in the making before, but consider what it means now. By some estimates, as many as 35 million Americans could lose their employer-provided health coverage in this recession. While some of those will become eligible for Medicaid and some may be able to get coverage on the Obamacare exchanges, there will without a doubt be millions of people added to the ranks of the uninsured.
And Republicans still want to take away coverage from even more people?
It was an interesting coincidence that on “Fox & Friends” Tuesday morning, Kellyanne Conway repeatedly referred to Trump as “this health-care president,” which is kind of like calling him “this environmental president” or “this immigration president” or “this modesty and sensitivity president.” Maybe she’s already getting worried about how the issue will play in November.
And the lawsuit could — and should — be an issue, one made particularly vivid by the pandemic.
The case could be heard by the Supreme Court this fall, though the decision wouldn’t come until after the election. Republicans may already be afraid that the pandemic will make people even more angry at the prospect of tossing out the ACA, and even more receptive to new reforms that expand the number of people with more secure government coverage, especially when you throw in the fact that health insurance premiums are likely to spike next year.
Which is why I suspect that the pandemic will make it even more likely that Chief Justice John Roberts will once again step in to save the Republican Party from itself by voting with the liberals and saving the ACA.
Imagine it’s January 2021, and there’s a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress. Even if the pandemic is under control, the memory of all that death and sickness will still be with us, as will the terrible economic consequences. Were the court to strike down the ACA, the upheaval and suffering would be so enormous that it would immediately become likely that Congress would pass a dramatic new health reform. Perhaps not single-payer, but certainly a public-option plan that provided millions more with the security that comes with government coverage, and that you can’t get with insurance that you lose if you lose your job.
This is just one area among many in which Democrats have policy ideas that could address gaps and weaknesses in our system that the pandemic revealed and exacerbated — family leave, higher wages, stronger labor protections, and automatic stabilizers to react quickly to downturns without political wrangling, to name a few. In the wake of this crisis, it’s going to become even harder for Republicans to resist at least some of them, especially if moderate Democrats who would hold the balance of power decide that a more robust system of social supports is exactly what the public now wants and expects.
That’s not to say some kind of new New Deal is a guarantee if Democrats are in control, but it has certainly become more likely. The opportunity is there, if they decide to take it.
And if Trump wins in November? He’ll keep trying to get the ACA overturned, probably with continued promises that if he’s successful, Republicans will replace it with “something terrific.” We’ll probably see more iterations of the pattern in which Trump announces that a spectacular new GOP health-care plan is in the works, then everybody pretends he never said any such thing and he forgets all about it.
And Republicans will go right back to saying that government is the problem and we should put our faith in the wisdom of the market. That’s an argument that may sound even more hollow than it did before.