President Barack Obama sought Monday to portray the latest lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act as baseless litigation founded in political animus—and warned that a Supreme Court ruling against his administration, which could come any day, would be devastating.
Speaking after the G-7 meeting in Germany, Obama employed some of his strongest rhetoric to date to preemptively cast the case—and, by extension, any Court ruling for the plaintiffs—as fraudulent.
He even suggested that the high Court should have never taken up the lawsuit in the first place, a reflection of the White House’s frustration that, five years in and millions of Americans covered, the law is still fighting to secure its legitimacy.
The president said it was “well documented” that Congress intended for ACA’s subsidies to be available in every state, regardless of whether the state or federal government operated its insurance exchange. But the law’s opponents disagree, citing some specific wording in the statute itself, and now the Court will decide the matter in the coming weeks.
If it rules against the administration, more than 6 million people could lose their financial aid provided by the law.
“The record makes it clear, and, under well-established statutory interpretation approaches that have been repeatedly employed not just by liberal Democratic judges but by conservative judges like some on the current Supreme Court, you interpret the statute based on what the intent and meaning and the overall structure of the statute provides for,” Obama said.
“So this should be an easy case. Frankly, it probably shouldn’t have been taken up,” he continued. “Since we’re going to get a ruling pretty quick, I think it’s important for us to go ahead and assume that the Supreme Court is going to do what most legal scholars who’ve looked at this would expect them to do.”
Obama alluded to the insurance market “death spiral”—healthy people dropping out of the exchanges if they lose their subsidies, leaving only the sick continuing to buy insurance, which would drive up prices, and rinse and repeat—the the administration has long warned would follow an adverse Court decision.
“It would be disruptive. Not just, by the way, for folks in the exchanges, but for those insurance markets in those states generally. It’s a bad idea,” he said. “It’s not something that should be done based on a twisted interpretation of four words in—as we were reminded repeatedly—a couple-thousand-page piece of legislation.”
But if the Court didn’t “play it straight” with its ruling, as Obama put it, the president placed the responsibility for fixing the problem with Capitol Hill. Otherwise, sticking to the administration’s long-standing position, he indicated there isn’t much the executive branch could do.
“I’m optimistic that the Supreme Court will play it straight when it comes to interpretation,” he said. “And I should mention if it didn’t, Congress could fix this whole thing with a one-sentence provision.”
“If somebody does something that doesn’t make any sense, it’s hard to fix,” Obama concluded. “And this would be hard to fix.”