Barack Obama Wants You to Think the Obamacare Lawsuit Is Ridiculous

President says the Supreme Court probably shouldn’t have even taken up the King v. Burwell case.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers speaks at the 2013 Tribal Nations Conference held at the Department of Interior Building on November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama meet with leaders of 566 Native American tribes earlier in the day at teh White House.
National Journal
Dylan Scott
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Dylan Scott
June 8, 2015, 7:43 a.m.

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.”

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