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Sunday, Sep 21, 2014

The Right Stuff

A politics blog by Tom Jackson

Tom Jackson's baseball card - if he had one - would report he throws left, writes right. In his columns and blog, "The Right Stuff," southpaw Jackson provides insight into the evolving human condition from a distinctly conservative point of view.

Big gap in left’s Obamacare subsidy argument

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Having dwelled so long in their self-affirming echo chamber, lefty journalists appear incapable of honestly acknowledging the hole in their argument about Obamacare’s inviolability. Too bad for them about the decision that came down from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last week; their denial makes a thin reed against which to lean.

To recap: In a 2-1 decision, the United States’ second-highest court ruled that the plain language of the Affordable Care Act means what it says, and what it says is only applicants for medical insurance through state plans are eligible for tax subsidies, and that the Internal Revenue Service — doing the bidding of the departments of Treasury and Health and Human Services — acted illegally when it issued a regulation that those who applied through federally operated exchanges also qualified for subsidies.

The left says the idea that only state-run exchanges earned subsidies for its clients is nuts, that Congress — and by Congress we mean historically lopsided majorities of Democrats, who alone coerced Obamacare across the line in a Yuletide 2010 frenzy of legislative bribery — obviously meant anyone who got insurance through any sort of exchange would also get a subsidy because otherwise, well, the plan would collapse.

Why? Because the unforgiving stick — the individual mandate (everyone must have insurance) — absolutely had to have an enticing carrot. Ideally, states would set up their own exchanges to enable less affluent citizens to get right with the law, liberal alumni from Ezra Klein’s Journolist are telling us now, but there’s absolutely no reason to believe the authors were setting up some sort of exclusive club.

And, by the way, never mind what one of Obamacare’s well-paid architects — a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, by the way — had to say about the absolute linkage between state exchanges and subsidies. Jonathan Gruber says he was talking off the cuff, responding to a question, and can’t really account for what he said. He committed a “speak-o,” or a spoken typo ... on at least two occasions where his thoughts were recorded.

In his Tuesday “Best of the Web Today” column, the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto thoroughly dissects the circular argument promoted by lefty journos such as Jonathan Cohn (The New Republic) and Sara Kliff (Vox). The column is tucked behind the Journal’s paywall, but these highlights present the gist.

Kliff’s argument can be reduced to the following: First, “Congress never debated whether they would limit the subsidies to states that built their own exchanges.” Second, Kliff doesn’t remember hearing anyone raise the question at the time. Third, Kliff can’t find any contemporaneous articles discussing the question. Therefore, Congress “intended” for subsidies to be available “in every state, no matter who built the exchange.” Thus if the law says otherwise, it must be an error.

Welcome to a nation of men, not laws. Remind me why we fought the Revolution.

As for Gruber, he was only sort of making an argument that Congress meant to threaten the states, except that it didn’t. Democratic lawmakers failed, Cohn contends, in their conversations with like-minded journalists, to punch the threat home. Therefore they didn’t really mean what they wrote. Writes Taranto:

It’s fascinating that the defense of ObamaCare — here meaning the law not as written but as implemented, legitimately or not, by the Obama administration — is now that Congress didn’t know what it was doing when it passed the law. To our mind, that is part of what makes the law such a monstrosity.

And let’s recall a Washington Post post by Ezra Klein, now Kliff’s boss at Vox, from 2009 titled “Don’t Read the Bill!”: “It’s silly to demand that members of Congress ‘read the bill.’ They can’t understand the bill. Nor, incidentally, can the public.”

It’s reminiscent not of “The Godfather” or “Dr. Strangelove” but of another movie classic, “Animal House.” ObamaCare’s architects and apologists are saying, in effect: “You [fouled] up. You trusted us.”

Well, some of us did. The rest of us certainly did not.

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