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The Potential Burwell Aftermath

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John Boehner

The political play for congressional Republicans should the Supreme Court go Moopy is pretty obvious. Pass a bill that temporarily extends subsidies to the federally established state exchanges while being loaded with poison pills, Obama vetoes it, Republicans assert that Obama is the reason the state exchanges will fail, media dutifully reports that Views of Shapes of the World Differ and Both Sides Do It and Obama Lacks the Leadership to Lead With Leadership (while conservative media outlets and pundits will have additional narratives that will get some mainstream traction, like Obama’s Use Of the So-Called “Veto Power” Is An Unprecedented Attack on American Constitutionalism.)

But will this actually happen? My guess is that congressional Republicans are too dysfunctional to actually pull this off. Chait agrees:

Obviously, Obama is not going to sign a bill that puts Obamacare on the path to extinction. The purpose is simply to give Republicans a talking point — they can say they passed a bill and blame Obama for vetoing it. But odds are that Republicans will fail to unify around a bill that can pass both houses of Congress with only Republican votes, because some will deem even a bill that causes Obamacare’s eventual demise unacceptably conciliatory.

Likewise, Sargent sees the cracks deepening:

Of course, even if the Court does gut subsidies, the Price alternative isn’t going to happen. Even if Republicans could unite behind the Price plan, or some other alternative, Obama would veto it, and try to pressure Republicans — in Congress and the states — to implement a simple subsidy fix. But the fact that a leading conservative like Price is now opposed to a temporary subsidy patch even on Republicans’ own terms is a reminder that Republicans may prove too divided to accomplish even that.

The lesson that both Chait and Sargent take from this is that Republicans should be careful what they wish for. My read on the situation remains…maybe. I still think there are two factors that will contain the damage for Republicans. First, the states where the Supreme Court could wreck the exchanges overwhelmingly shade red, and in many of these states Republicans are essentially invulnerable. (I do think a Moops invasion would be politically damaging to Scott Walker, a fact that evidently takes on added significance given that he’s a frontrunner for the Republican nomination.) And, second, average voters tend not to be very good as assigning responsibility, and the media won’t necessarily help even if Congress can’t even pass a Potemkin fix. The political press can ignore an awful lot of facts on the ground if they get in the way of the Both Side Do It default.

The precise political effects of the Supreme Court wrecking the exchanges cannot be known. But I do think it’s clear that the only question is how bad it will be. No matter what a there will be a lot of states that don’t have functional exchanges for a while, and while Republicans might pay a political price for this they probably have a lock on the House at least until 2020. Needless to say, by far the best outcome would be for the Supreme Court to not willfully misread the law in order to wreck the exchanges.

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