U.S. lawmakers are engaged in heated partisan debate ahead of a Supreme Court ruling that could save or derail President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement: the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
A high court decision is expected by Monday on whether the 2010 health care law, as written, allows government subsidies for millions of insurance subscribers who signed up on a federally-run exchange.
A ruling against the administration would instantly provoke a firestorm on Capitol Hill, pitting Republicans who have vigorously opposed Obamacare from the start against Democrats determined to salvage America’s most far-reaching health care reform in decades.
Already, lawmakers are positioning themselves for the decision and bracing for the chaos and anger that would erupt in large swaths of the country if subsidies ended.
For Republicans, such an outcome would be a final damning indictment of what they see as a disastrous and misguided program.
“Obamacare has utterly failed to live up to the many promises the president and congressional Democrats made to the American people,” said Republican Senator John Cornyn. “The president’s trail of broken promises has led us to a damaged health care system and a limping economy.”
Democrats point out that the percentage of insured Americans has surged since the law went into effect. They note that congressional Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal it, and that Republican-led state governments have challenged the law in court, bringing Obamacare to the legal precipice upon which it teeters.
“I struggle to understand those who hate the Affordable Care Act like the devil hates holy water,” said Democrat Richard Durbin. “It works. It works. More people are being insured. Folks cannot be denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition. The overall cost of health care is starting to dip down. It brings down the [federal] deficit. What part of that isn’t good news?”
Americans split on Obamacare
Recent polls show Americans are just about evenly split on Obamacare, but one poll says a much smaller proportion - 31 percent - favor repealing the law, and 70 percent want federal subsidies of health care insurance to continue.
As for blame if subsidies end, Republicans note that Obamacare was written by Democrats and passed with only Democratic votes. Therefore, they argue, Democrats bear responsibility for any fallout that ensues from a Supreme Court decision.
Cornyn insists the Republican-led Congress is ready to step in and help anyone who loses their subsidy, but only as part of a larger effort to rein in and reform the law.
“While we [Republicans] didn’t contribute to getting the country in this mess, we are ready, willing and able to provide an off-ramp for millions of people who may have their health care interrupted,” said Cornyn, who also promised “an end to government-backed health care that the American people don’t want, don’t need and cannot afford.”
Democrats complain that Republicans have put forth no detailed proposals and made only vague promises to boost health care choice and affordability.
“So for those who are cheering, hoping the Supreme Court will derail the Affordable Care Act, my question is: what do you have to replace it?” Durbin asked. “The answer is: they [Republicans] don’t have an idea.”
Rather than gutting Obamacare, Democrats say the law could be fixed with simple legislation stating that subsidies can be offered on the federal insurance exchange. But that is a non-starter for majority-Republicans in both houses of Congress who have no desire to save core provisions of the law.
That reality sets up a fierce political brawl – and endless finger-pointing – if the Supreme Court rules against continued health care subsidies.