The Hidden Benefits of the Burwell Ruling for Republicans

Today’s Supreme Court ruling allowing Obamacare’s federal subsidies to continue, not surprisingly, triggered immediate condemnation from leading Republicans followed by promises to, in the words of presidential candidate Marco Rubio, replace it with a “consumer-centered plan.”

Without a doubt, the optimal outcome would have been a ruling upholding the law as written, striking down the IRS rule and the subsidies, followed by the passage of “rescue and recovery” legislation that would provide immediate relief for Americans being hurt by the law and transitioned the country from Obamacare toward a more consumer-centered plan.

While this outcome would have been best for patients, the next best outcome for patients – and arguably the better outcome for Republicans – was the very ruling the court issued today.

Had Republicans “won” the case, it may have been at best a pyrrhic victory and at worst the beginnings of a debilitating civil war.

This courtroom artist rendering shows Michael Carvin, lead attorney for the petitioners,, right, speaking before the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, a the court heard arguments in King v. Burwell, a major test of President Barack Obama's health overhaul which, if successful, could halt health care premium subsidies in all the states where the federal government runs the insurance marketplaces. Seated, left, from left are, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)

A court artist’s rendition of Michael Carvin, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, presents their case before the Supreme Court. | Photo: AP

Before the ruling conservatives were lining up in two camps. One camp backed a plan authored by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson that would have temporarily continued the subsidies for Americans who would have lost them. The Johnson plan would have also forced the Obama administration to make concessions that would have sped up the unraveling of the law. For instance, the Johnson plan would have forced the President’s hand on two key parts of the law: the individual mandate and the employer mandate. It also would have taken away the IRS’s power to enforce penalties.  

The other camp, however, viewed the Johnson plan as “selling out” or foolishly continuing Obamacare. Each camp viewed the other as insane. The Johnson camp, I believe, had the better argument because it created a greater impetus for a strong consensus consumer center plan that could be passed in 2016, under a new President.

Letting patients who lost subsidies figure it out on their own would have been like approaching a sinking Titanic and letting the patients drown in order to teach the shipbuilding community a lesson in proper architecture. According to this logic, the lives lost in the water would have been a small price to pay for the many lives that would have been saved by defending better architecture and avoiding the moral hazard associated with bailing out bad shipbuilders. Those sorts of arguments don’t work very well in elections.

Had these camps fought it out, as they would have had Republicans “won” today, the ensuing battle would have made the shutdown fight over defunding Obamacare look like a minor skirmish. Letting the subsidies expire simply to make a point without having a serious fix to implement would have been worse than political suicide; it would have been murder-suicide. Patients would have drowned, our candidates would have been taken out, and then the camp opposing the Johnson plan would have gone out in a grand finale of faux-purity self-immolation.

“The ensuing battle would have made the shutdown fight over defunding Obamacare look like a minor skirmish”

The court saved Republicans from this dilemma and will instead force them to refine the only winning strategy available to party – one based on real ideas and solutions.

Because of today’s ruling what was true yesterday is even more obvious today. Democrats not only own American health care, they own a law that is hurting millions of Americans and is built on a foundation of lies.

The Supreme Court has now, not once but twice, upheld a poorly written law that is hurting people. That could make today’s decision a pyrrhic victory for Democrats. 

The battle lines for 2016 are now clearer than ever. The next election will be about the failure of ObamaCare and how the left’s counterfeit compassion is hurting people. When ObamaCare is dismantled its backers won’t be able to say they lost on a technicality. Instead, they will lose on the basis of ideas, results and a mandate for real progress and change.

John Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @johnhart333.