The “letter of the law is important” and “no it isn’t . . . presidents get to write in whatever they want and Congress gets to shirk its duties.”
Two three-judge appellate court panels issued rulings today regarding the permissibility of grand Obama administration interpretations and cost expansions of Obamacare as passed by Congress. Both cases had similar core issues.
The two-to-one ruling by the Federal Circuit (District of Columbia) panel in the Halbig v. Burwell case was to deny the legality of the Obama administration actions. Conversely all three of the Richmond, VA based Fourth Circuit sustained Obama administration machinations in the King v. Burwell case. The Federal Circuit (DC) is considered the most prestigious of the 12 regional appellate courts dealing as it does with key national laws.
Each ruling is appealable to that circuit courts full panel or directly to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). What the legal beagles predict will be the sequence of events is unknown to us but we do predict that politics will enter into the decision-making.
Conceivably a hearing before the full (en banc) panel in each of the two circuit courts could sustain or flip the decision of its smaller panel, resulting in a different mix of decisions, or both adverse or both sustaining the Obama administration. Nevertheless most comments we have seen assume that the high court is destined to hear Obamacare again. This time not as regards the basic constitutionality of the takeover of healthcare, which they refashioned to be a matter of the taxing authority of Congress, but whether the Obama Administration acts outside the law when it adds substantial provisions and tax expenditures that Congress did not.
The decisions are important because they implicate a quicker collapse of Obamacare’s scheme to thoroughly takeover healthcare delivery. Because the takeover has not been popular, the Obama Administration it is argued went beyond the provisions of the act to do things to try to increase enrollment in 36 states that had no interest in setting up insurance exchanges because they anticipated huge associated costs. We have appended some further explanations and commentary regarding the implications of the rulings from organizations that have followed the legal developments closely.
From Brian at Catholic Vote.org:
Here is the quick summary: Obamacare was established to provide subsidies (taxpayer dollars) to qualified applicants who enrolled in health care via a state exchange. Backers of Obamacare never imagined that any state (let alone 36) would refuse to set up a state exchange. After all, when has any government said no to free federal money?
But many states recognized that they would be on the hook when the federal subsidies disappeared. And so they refused to go along.
When the states began saying no, the lawless Obama administration simply flouted the law. The IRS ignored the plain text of the law and unilaterally decided that subsidies would also go to persons who signed up on exchanges established by the federal government — even though Congress never approved this option!
The federal court today rejected this lawless option, stating that the Obamacare law “unambiguously” stipulated that subsidies were to go to individuals obtaining insurance through an “exchange established by the state.”
The Court was clear: Congress makes the laws. Barack Obama does not.
If upheld on appeal, millions of Obamacare recipients would lose their taxpayer subsidy. The entire program would become unsustainable and unworkable.
While today’s verdict will likely be appealed, the future unraveling of Obamacare seems inevitable. The American people remain strongly opposed to the premium spikes, restrictions on doctors and care, and assaults on religious liberty and conscience.
Hadley Heath Manning at Independent Women’s Voice had this description of the rulings issued today (bold typeface, our emphasis):
This morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington D.C. Circuit ruled in Halbig v. Burwell that the IRS rule allowing ObamaCare subsidies to be dispersed through federal exchanges in 36 states is illegal. This means the second-highest court in the land has ruled that the president is breaking the law. This ruling could allow lawmakers to go back to the drawing board and redesign true market-based health reform where consumers are on control and have access to affordable care that fits their individual needs.
Most people thought this lawsuit had no chance of victory, but the three-judge appeals panel ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who argued that the IRS does not have the authority to extend ObamaCare’s subsidies to states that did not establish an ObamaCare exchange. In other words, the Court ruled to uphold ObamaCare as written. The unlawful behavior uncovered in Halbig – imposing taxes no Congress ever authorized – is worse than this administration’s previous abuses.
The text of the law specifies that only state-established exchanges (as opposed to federally-established exchanges) can disburse subsidies and tax-credits to certain middle- and low-income customers. This ruling is even more significant because these illegal subsidies trigger employer and individual mandates, meaning these onerous mandates (that function like taxes) could also be undone in 36 states.
If the ruling stands, a quarter million employers and 8 million Americans would be freed from the unpopular, unfair ObamaCare mandates. This is good news for anyone who believes in limited, accountable government.
Within hours, in a separate but similar case, there was a contradictory ruling out of the Richmond, VA.-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Nothing is going to change immediately; the federal government has stated intent to seek further review. We hope and look forward to seeing Halbig and other challenges to ObamaCare’s lawless implementation at the Supreme Court.
Gary Bauer of Campaign for Working Families, writing later in the day, expressed a concern we share.
This morning, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, widely considered the second-most important court in country, issued a decision that many are describing as a “crippling blow” or “major setback” to Obamacare.
In the case of Halbig v. Burwell, the court ruled 2-to-1 that the IRS and the Obama Administration ignored the plain language of the so-called “Affordable Care Act” in granting taxpayer-funded subsidies to enrollees in the federal Obamacare exchange.
The law as Democrats wrote it clearly states that only enrollees in state-run exchanges are eligible for taxpayer-funded health insurance subsidies. Without the subsidies, Obamacare isn’t so affordable.
Democrats thought this language would encourage the states to run their own exchanges, lessening the burden of Obamacare on the federal government. But 34 states opted against taking on this additional bureaucracy.
Realizing how this could cripple Obama’s signature initiative before it ever got started, the administration simply ignored the law as it has done time and time again. Now a panel of judges has smacked down this blatant example of Obama’s lawlessness, essentially declaring the subsidies to 5 million people to be illegal.
Not long after this decision was announced, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a contrary ruling upholding Obamacare’s federal subsidies. When two appeals courts issue contradictory rulings, that is usually a guaranteed ticket to the Supreme Court. But even some noted liberal law professors are not willing to “bet the family farm” on this case.
While I applaud today’s legal victory in the D.C. Circuit Court, I fear it could have serious political ramifications by energizing Obama’s left-wing base.
If Democrats turn out at the ballot box in large numbers this November to defend Obamacare, we may not win the 2014 elections.
We share Bauer’s political concern but worse, we have no confidence that the same members of SCOTUS that interpreted Obamacare as a tax matter rather than a Commerce Clause usurpation can be depended on to uphold the letter of the law. But with Roberts and Kennedy always big ifs, the bright side is that we have a shot at arguing something key to the pretend sustainability of Obamacare, and ultimately sending the whole idea of “healthcare reform” back to the drawing board for a sustainable life affirming solution. However nothing definitive will happen judicially prior to the November congressional elections. The political implications could work our way with a clear unified message from Republicans that the real nightmare can be ended. That is the best case scenario. But too many just want to pull the covers over their heads instead of attacking the demons.