You know that cliché about the kid who killed his parents and then begged the court to have mercy on his poor orphaned self?
Meet Missouri’s top Republican lawmakers, Sen. Roy Blunt and Senator-elect Josh Hawley. After their many broad-daylight attempts to poison, strangle and shoot the Affordable Care Act as it drove away, they are all sad-faced innocence now that a Texas judge has ruled that Obamacare shouldn’t survive.
Suddenly, Blunt says we needn’t worry because that’s not really going to happen. Wait, but aren’t you the Roy Blunt who spent years calling for just this outcome?
Hawley, who as Missouri’s attorney general was among the 20 Republican governors and attorneys general who filed the successful Texas suit, vows that now, as a U.S. senator, he will restore the very protections he just gutted.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
After the ruling, he tweeted, “TX court has declared Obamacare individual mandate unconstitutional. Now it’s time for both parties to work together to lower healthcare costs, improve access to quality care for all, and protect those with preexisting conditions.” Why wasn’t the time to do that any time in the last eight years?
After all the energy Republicans have spent undermining efforts to lower health care costs, improve access and protect those with pre-existing conditions, who better to save these protections than those who’ve worked so hard to make sure the law didn’t work as it was supposed to?
It isn’t only that they regularly voted to repeal it without offering any workable replacement. President Donald Trump signed an executive order allowing insurance companies to sell the subpar plans — you say “alternative,” we say “junk” — that are cheaper for a reason. His administration effectively encouraged insurance companies to withdraw from the Affordable Care Act marketplace by requiring those companies with federal contracts to keep insuring lower-income people but without giving them the subsidies that had made affordable policies possible. It also shortened the enrollment period, cut funding to help people sign up for coverage and used money intended to encourage enrollment on a campaign to discourage it.
Then, in what Republicans hoped would be a final act of destruction, in last December’s tax bill they reduced the penalty for failing to get insurance to zero. If enough healthy people don’t enter the risk pool, companies can’t afford to cover all those with pre-existing conditions. Yet Republicans keep saying that they support making companies cover everyone, while at the same time actively discouraging healthy people from signing up.
Hawley’s suit, Texas v. Azar, argued that because the individual mandate had been upheld as a tax by the Supreme Court in 2012, doing away with the tax also did away with the constitutional justification for the mandate. The district court judge not only agreed, but ruled that since the mandate can’t be separated from the rest of the law, the whole Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.
“Great news for America,” Trump tweeted. But on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Blunt wasn’t exactly celebrating this long-sought win: “You know, I think the, the thing to remember about the judge’s ruling is it has no immediate impact. There — nothing changes yesterday. Nothing changes tomorrow. This’ll have to go through a circuit court process. Who knows if the circuit court would uphold it or not. That will either be quickly dismissed, which is one option, or a long period of time, in my view, before the circuit court deals with it. This will be another area where — this — health care will be used as a political issue way beyond the ramifications of one district judge making a ruling that has no immediate impact.”
There may be a planet on which this word waterfall means something, but it isn’t this one.
There are some serious problems with the ruling, as even some of Obamacare’s most committed critics have pointed out: If there’s no penalty, then there’s no injury, and if there’s no injury, then the 20 states that filed suit had no standing to do so. And if the Supreme Court found the mandate constitutional with a tax penalty, why would a weaker mandate, with no penalty, be unconstitutional?
“Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd asked Blunt if he agrees with Trump that the ruling is reason to cheer. Again, our senator spoke but didn’t say anything.
“I think it’s basically just, for America, it means we’re going to continue to debate this. Health care clearly matters to people. Some of, you know, what we had with Obamacare, as you’ve already called it today, was a, a poorly thought-out plan, really poorly, poorly implemented to start with. That’s had lots of negative impact on lots of families, who have insurance they don’t need with deductibles they can’t afford.”
In an act of mercy, Todd stopped him there, and asked, “If all of that is true, why have you guys failed to be able to come up with an alternative?” Blunt responded by criticizing a different Democratic plan, still without offering any alternative. “I wouldn’t say we couldn’t unite on any idea. But this is a very difficult issue and a closely divided Senate ... You know, the one thing I think we would be able to unite on is Medicare for all would wind up meaning Medicare for none. If Democrats want to take that view to the American people, and seniors, particularly, people who are now covered by Medicare, understand the ramifications of that. There is no way that will happen. And there’s no way voters will let it happen.”
Our cloudy senior senator did make one thing clear, though. Asked whether he’d support putting a 1-cent tax on the individual mandate, in order to keep the ruling from being implemented, he said, “Coming up with a 1-cent gimmick would not have much appeal to me.” Of course not, because that would help the law work.