July 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

COLUMNS

Michigan and the Halbig case

Totten )

This week, a federal court accepted Attorney General Bill Schuette’s argument that hundreds of thousands of Michigan families are ineligible for federal tax credits to purchase health insurance. If the ruling stands, Bill Schuette will have denied working Michigan families tax credits averaging $4,700.

The scope of families harmed if Schuette gets his way is staggering. Nearly 500,000 Michigan families are eligible for these credits, and several hundred thousand have already claimed them. The average value of these credits is $4,700 per family. For the average family in our state, that represents nearly two months of take-home pay.

Think about that. Michigan’s Attorney General chose to champion a lawsuit to take almost two months’ worth of paychecks from a half million Michigan families.

The attorney general is the lawyer for the people. But Schuette has shown he won’t give a second thought to sacrificing people to score a few partisan points and curry favor with his national funders.

As if his effort to raise taxes on Michigan families wasn’t enough, Schuette led the successful fight against Gov. Rick Snyder’s effort to create a Michigan exchange. In response, the editorial page of this paper chastised Schuette for “letting his political stripes outshine his role as the state’s top legal adviser.” Having fought to ensure Michigan used the federal exchange, Schuette is now fighting to raise taxes on Michigan families because they use the very exchange he pushed.

Clearly the health care law has problems, but we don’t fix them by raising taxes on our citizens. Schuette’s conduct is both wrong and represents everything broken in our political system today — the kind of cynical politics more focused on scoring political points than solving real-world problems.

Schuette has not only abandoned his responsibility to protect the people, he’s wrong on the law. At issue in the case is whether federal tax credits for purchasing health insurance are available for states — like Michigan — that did not create their own health care exchanges. In his court papers, Schuette argued that families in Michigan and other states that rely on the federal exchange cannot access the credits. (Even though Michigan taxpayers are funding the credits for families in states like New York and California that have their own exchanges).

Schuette’s argument rests on a wooden interpretation of one-sentence in the law, ripped-out of its larger context. Prior to Schuette’s case no one, including the legislators who voted on the law, was arguing the credits were limited in the manner Schuette now argues.

As Attorney General, I will take a decisively different path. This case is not over and important legal decisions lie in the months ahead. One of my first acts in office will be to withdraw Michigan from Schuette’s harmful crusade. And I promise never to harm Michigan families to make a political point.

The attorney general is the people’s lawyer and has an ethical obligation to put the interests of Michigan families above special interests, political party, and funders.

Mark Totten is the Democratic candidate for Michigan attorney general.