King V. Burwell

These days, court watchers have been working themselves into a frenzy while awaiting a decision on King v. Burwell, one of the most anticipated cases of the year.  On opinion days, dozens of reporters are packing into the court, or swarming the steps outside, while nearly 10,000 people tune into SCOTUSblog for live updates.  Those false reports which attempt to predict the decision’s timing have only further fueled the hype around the case.

Steve Moye Tea Party

Members of the Tea Party speak out about the issue of King V. Burwell

Across Capitol Hill, Republicans in the House and Senate briefed their members for the first time on Wednesday, trying their best to calm fears about what could happen to the 6.4 million people whose health insurance subsidies are at stake in the case.  Some of the biggest lobby firms in DC have been drafting “predecision” memos and briefing clients, even those outside of the healthcare field, about how they could be hit by a ruling.  Democrats have also been getting nervous; on the same afternoon as the Republican meetings, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell privately met with members of the New Democrat Coalition last Wednesday to talk about the case.  These meetings took place in separate corners of the Capitol just a few hours apart, both of them drawing an usually large number of reporters.

Republicans have spent four months quietly crafting contingency plans for the case.  While it drew some attention during oral arguments back in March, the hype has been approaching new heights, with just a few days left of court decisions for the summer.  This week’s meetings marked the first time that most members heard details about those plans.  Some members, including Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), were blunt in their assessment, answering questions about whether or not their party had reached a consensus about the plan with a flat “no”.  In the House, plans appear to be coming along more smoothly.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the GOP’s point man for the case, presented a more complete proposal that would give block grants to states that want them, while the rest could decide to scrap the healthcare law altogether.  However, even this plan sparked fireworks from the House’s more conservative members.  Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) rolled out a bill the next day that would prevent Congress from enacting any extension of the subsidies.  As the Supreme Court released its latest round of opinions, attention stayed on King v. Burwell.  And with just a few days of opinions left, the Obama administration has been beginning to break its silence as well.

Burwell and other health care officials have been so adamant about refusing to discuss the case that senior Republicans, such as Cornyn, have accused Burwell of acting in contempt of Congress.  While Burwell’s department has given no official guidance to the three dozen states that could lose their subsidies, the administration has started to show its hand.  This week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) gave permission for two states to move ahead with backup plans to save their subsidies, which would involve launching their own health insurance marketplaces.  A few states, such as Florida, Louisiana and Wisconsin, have said that they’ll do no “nothing” to rescue ObamaCare subsidies.  However, a large majority of state leaders are staying quiet about their post-decision strategies, which have been shaped by secret meetings and phone calls with other states over the past few months.  These concerns are in turn being relayed to the 68 senators and hundreds of representatives whose constituents are at risk of losing their subsidies.

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