By Greg Sargent
With the Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments this week in the lawsuit that could do severe damage to the Affordable Care Act, some Republican lawmakers are working hard to convey the impression that they have a contingency plan for the millions who will likely lose subsidies — and coverage — if the Court rules with the challengers. Senators Orrin Hatch, Lamar Alexander, and John Barrasso have published a Washington Post op ed with an oh-so-reassuring title: “We have a plan for fixing health care.”
The good Senators, amusingly, cast their “plan” as something that will protect people from “the administration’s” actions and from Obamacare itself, not from the consequences of the legal challenge or a Court decision siding with it. The plan vows to “provide financial assistance” for a “transitional period” to those who lose subsidies, while Republicans create a “bridge away from Obamacare.” Of course, anyone who watched last week’s chaos in the House knows Congressional Republicans are unlikely to coalesce around any “transitional” relief for those who lose subsidies (that would require spending federal money to cover people) or any permanent long-term alternative. This chatter appears transparently designed to make it easier for conservative Justices to side with the challengers.
Yet even if this game works on the Justices in the short term, any eventual failure to come through with any contingency plan could saddle Republicans with a political problem, perhaps even among GOP voters.
A poll taken by Independent Women’s Voice — a group that favors repealing Obamacare in the name of individual liberty — found that in the nearly three dozen states on the federal exchange, 75 percent of respondents think it’s very (54) or somewhat (21) important to restore subsidies to those who lose them. In the dozen main presidential swing states, 75 percent of respondents say the same.
And guess what: Large majorities of Republican voters agree. A spokesperson for the group tells me that in both those groups of states taken together, 62 percent of Republican respondents say its very (31) or somewhat (31) important to restore the subsidies. Only 31 percent of Republicans in those states think doing this is unimportant.
This raises the possibility that a lot of Republican voters would be harmed by an anti-ACA decision, too. As Politico puts it today: “The people who would be affected by a Supreme Court decision against the Obama administration live disproportionately in GOP-governed states, and an Urban Institute study found that many people fall into a demographic crucial to the GOP base — white, Southern and employed.”
Now, none of this means Republicans will be more likely to step forward with a solution. As Avik Roy (who hopes the Court rules against the ACA) acknowledges, Republicans are so divided that uniting on any response is unlikely:
Republicans are being pulled in two directions. On the one hand, you have dozens of House members from highly ideological districts, for whom a primary challenge is a far bigger political risk than a general election. Many members of this group think that continuing Obamacare’s subsidies, in any form, is problematic.
On the other hand, there is a large group of Republican senators in blue and purple states up for reelection in 2016. These include Mark Kirk (Ill.), Ron Johnson (Wisc.), Pat Toomey (Penn.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Rob Portman (Ohio). These senators are much more aligned with Hatch, Alexander, and Barrasso.
Meanwhile, Republican state lawmakers, who could keep the subsidies flowing to their constituents by setting up state exchanges, are all over the place on what might come next, with some already ruling out such a fix. Indeed, in the end, it probably won’t matter that large majorities of Americans — or even large majorities of Republicans — support restoring the subsidies. On this, as on so many other things, GOP lawmakers will probably take their cues from the more conservative minority of Republicans, whatever the political or policy consequences.