GOP Lawmakers Undeterred by Obamacare Ruling

GOP Lawmakers Undeterred by Obamacare Ruling
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Democrats on Capitol Hill were jubilant following the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding a key part of Obamacare, saying it should send a clear signal to Republicans to end their push to dismantle the law. At the same time, Republicans said they are disappointed by the court’s opinion, but vowed to continue that fight to repeal the president’s signature legislative achievement.

The court ruled 6-3 to uphold a key portion of the law allowing federal subsidies for health care premiums regardless of whether recipients use a state-run health exchange or the federal Healthcare.gov. Republicans spent months preparing for the court to rule against the administration, which could have left millions of people without subsidies.

“Everybody is stunned,” Rep. Dave Brat said following the ruling. “I thought the logic and the plain language was going to be the other direction. … We had alternatives ready, but yeah, this is a stunner.”

Democrats, on the other hand, mostly weren’t surprised. They’d been arguing for weeks that the Supreme Court was wrong to even take up the case against the health care law, and had consistently expressed confidence that the ruling would be in their favor. Rep. Xavier Becerra, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told RCP he had for weeks predicted the exact 6-3 breakdown of the justices.  

Though the ruling was a defeat for Republicans hoping for leverage against the health care law they have spent so much time decrying, they didn’t spend much time lamenting the loss. Almost across the board, GOP lawmakers responded by saying that though the court had allowed subsidies to continue, Obamacare remains fundamentally flawed, and they would continue their efforts to repeal and replace it. That stance echoed what Republican presidential candidates said after the ruling. 

“It’s a bad law,” House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said. “The Supreme Court didn’t rule whether it’s a good law or a bad law. It’s a bad thing in the marketplace and we still have to correct it.”

Sessions (pictured) said he has been working on Obamacare replacement legislation for a year, and expects to release it in the coming weeks. He said it would be just one of many plans Republicans have, but he expects the party to continue its push to get rid of the ACA.

Another path Republicans have for continuing the fight against Obamacare is through a budget procedure known as reconciliation, which would allow them to pass a funding bill in the Senate with just 51 votes, instead the usual 60 needed to beat a filibuster. Because the GOP controls the Senate for the first time in Obama’s presidency, reconciliation would provide an opportunity to actually push repeal through both chambers.

Rep. Tom Price, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, told reporters that repealing parts of the law through reconciliation was still a probable strategy going forward. He said the court ruling didn’t end GOP efforts to dismantle the law, but simply “changes the dynamic. The focus returns to a repeal and replace with positive, patient-centered health care.”

If Congress did pass a repeal-and-replace measure under reconciliation, however, President Obama would obviously bring out his veto pen. Brat, a freshman lawmaker from Virginia, acknowledged that it would be difficult to override a veto, calling the situation a “political standoff.”

“I think we’re back to square one,” he said.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said in a press conference that Republicans should “get real and forget about Obamacare as far as reconciliation goes. They only have one shot at that and if they do something that’s a little off target, it’ll be vetoed and that’s their last shot at doing it. I think they should do something that has some lasting impact, not something they know the president is going to veto.”

Beyond reconciliation, Democrats argued that the court ruling should be a wake-up call for Republicans to stop voting to dismantle the Affordable Care Act entirely. Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said this should be the final effort to get rid of the law.

“They’ve tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act 50, almost 60 times. And they are constantly trying to undermine it in various ways,” the Minnesota congressman said. “It has passed constitutional muster now twice. So maybe now we can get onto the business of covering Americans and making sure everybody has affordable, adequate health care insurance.”

Some Democrats even suggested that the ruling was a positive for Republicans. GOP lawmakers had been working for months on several plans had the court ruled against the administration, which would have caused millions of Americans to lose health care subsidies. They hadn’t released a specific proposal, however, saying they were waiting for the court ruling. Becerra said the GOP “dodged a bullet” with the court’s ruling on Thursday.

“I’m not surprised that they’re still talking about repealing it,” Becerra told RCP. “I am surprised that they’re still talking ‘replace,’ because they’ve had five years to show us what they would replace it with and they haven’t yet told us. They dodged a bullet because had the Supreme Court had gone a different way, they would have had to tell us what the replace side of the repeal-and-replace is, and I don’t think they have an answer yet.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the chamber, said in a statement following the ruling that “Democrats, and my guess is Republicans, are breathing one gigantic sigh of relief.”

House Speaker John Boehner, during his weekly press conference, reiterated his belief that “Obamacare is fundamentally broken.” But he also admitted that it’s difficult for Republicans to deal with the problem facing “a president that fundamentally disagrees with us. And so the struggle will continue.”

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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