Obamacare Civil War: States Taking Sides in Legislative Battle
America is, unfortunately, no stranger to civil war. Even now the conflict that raged throughout the 1860s ranks as our deadliest; no surprise since it was waged against ourselves. Luckily in the century and a half since that tragic bloodbath, America has managed to solve its internal struggles via… less aggressive means.
Nonetheless even today we have our fair share of extremely tense political and social disputes to the point of outright physical violence in the streets in places like Charlottesville and Ferguson.
While the issues surrounding those places and their unrest are substantially apparent to Americans, their various home states have been (quietly) taking sides and gearing up for battle over a different, albeit massive, policy issue entirely; The ACA individual mandate, i.e., the cornerstone of Obamacare. Except instead of muskets and cannon they’re using lawyers and legal briefs.
The origins of the conflict relate back to the rather legislatively murky way the ACA was implemented (and how the mandate has been upheld) via 2 separate laws, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (HCERA).
Frankly, the ACA is the legal quagmire to end all quagmires. The arguments are convoluted and the legal maneuvering enigmatic. At the risk of forcing you to traverse blocks of legal text even more boring than that last one we’ll go ahead and break down the background and details of the case, coined Texas et al. v. USA et al., to the key concepts at play; Here we go.
Why is it happening?
The recent congressional drama culminating with a twilight hour deciding vote from recently deceased Senator and Vietnam veteran John McCain to kill the Republican foray at taking on Obamacare is a fresh memory for most. It was the climax of what would ultimately be a failed attempt by Republicans to implement their own ‘American Healthcare Care Act’ (AHCA) to replace Obama’s ACA.
But Trump, who ran on an ACA ‘repeal and replace’ platform didn’t simply accept defeat; instead passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). While the focus of the TCJA was on immediate tax relief it also had within it standing orders to set the ACA mandate penalty to 0 dollars starting in 2019. If Trump couldn’t kill Obamacare, he would let it die.
So, what’s the problem?
If you recall back to the courtroom slug out over the ACA around 2010-12, you’ll remember one of the cornerstones of the opposition was attempting to frame the mandate as the forced purchase of a product (in this case insurance) enforced by the federal government. Finally, in 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled that the mandate couldn’t be blocked because it was a tax and US law prohibits legally blocking taxes.
But with the Trump administration instituting a future rate of 0 dollars Texas has taken it upon itself to go to court and argue that without a penalty the mandate could not be considered a tax, and thus made illegal. The results would (Texas hopes) likely be the disintegration of the ACA’s institutions and legislative validity.
So… where’s this ‘Civil War’?
If you recall again to the original ACA debacles, the defendant in all those cases were the various US federal departments involved in the implementation, generally under the banner of the US Department of Justice lawyers. In other words, the defendant was really the Obama administration (via nominated bureaucrats).
But the Trump administration has no intention of manning the constitutional defenses left by their predecessors, instead essentially letting Texas prosecute the case uncontested. In light of this federal inaction, California has taken it upon itself to take on Texas instead.
The left-leaning fellow supersized state (ironically essentially a Texan antithesis) has dedicated its own departments to the defense of the ACA. They’re joined by fellow left-leaning states mainly along the western and northeast coasts of the country. Seeing the gathering storm, rallying to the banner of the lone star state are the right-leaning states of the nation’s south and interior.
All involved parties are contributing resources and legal pressure to the case that has made its way up slowly from local Texan courts to federal district court with dozens of attorney generals taking part. Almost all parties involved expect it to reach the next level and be heard in the US Supreme Court itself, newly staffed with Trump’s first appointee Justice Gorsuch. However the case ends, the ACA looks doomed to die one way or another the way it was born, convoluted legislative means.