GOP plans to continue health law subsidies
Washington — Congressional Republicans will move to temporarily continue health care subsidies for millions of people if the Supreme Court overturns the aid, according to plans discussed Wednesday in the House and Senate.
In addition, the GOP proposals would dissolve many of the basic requirements of President Barack Obama's health care law, including mandates that most people buy coverage and most companies provide it to their workers, Republicans said. Eventually, they hope, the entire law would be repealed.
Should the justices annul the subsidies, which are a crucial girder of the 2010 law, GOP leaders hope their plans would let them take the political offensive against the statute. They also hope it would let them avoid blame from voters for making millions of lower-earning Americans risk losing health coverage.
"First of all, we're taking care of people who are going to get hurt," said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La. "Secondly, we're creating a bridge to help the states deal with the fiasco."
Such an effort would be sure to encounter solid Democratic opposition in Congress and a veto from the president, who has championed the law's extension of health coverage to millions.
The details emerged as Republicans on both sides of the Capitol met privately to discuss how to respond to the court's politically explosive ruling that's expected in the next two weeks. The decision could result in nearly 7 million people losing subsidies to buy coverage under Obama's contested health care overhaul.
Lawmakers and aides said the plans were not final and could still change.
Under the plan presented by a quartet of committee chairman to House Republicans and described by several legislators, if the courts voided the subsidies, the aid would continue anyway for the remainder of 2015.
After that, states could abandon all of the health care law's rules, including its abolition of lifetime coverage limits and its requirement that family policies cover children until age 26. States doing that would get federal block grants they could use to continue subsidizing people buying insurance, aid the states could structure however they choose.
The block grants would last for two years — by which time the GOP hopes to have captured the White House and retained control of Congress. After that, the law Republicans call "Obamacare" would be eliminated altogether — leaving it up to the new president and Congress to craft a new approach.
If a state turns down the block grant, individuals could receive tax subsidies directly as they do now.
Senate Republicans are discussing a similar structure although fewer details were available. Senators said their plan would temporarily provide aid to people losing subsidies — perhaps as block grants to states — and would abolish the mandates for individual and employer-provided coverage.
A leading author of the evolving Senate approach, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said it would help people now receiving subsidies through the 2016 elections, when the GOP hopes to capture the White House and keep congressional control.
"We need to fix health care in America, but Obamacare cannot be fixed," Barrasso told reporters.
The GOP's approach carries political risks, including whether they can unite behind an approach and push it through Congress. A number of conservatives have already expressed opposition to extending the law's subsidies at all.
"I do not believe we should extend subsidies. I think the proper answer is to allow states to opt out" of the law's requirements, said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a candidate for his party's presidential nomination.
Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., said House GOP leaders argued that the situation presents an opportunity for Republicans.
"This is transitioning out of Obamacare, not repealing it and not even affirming it. It's transitioning," Ross said. "I think at the end of the day when we realize that we have one opportunity to respond and that Congress will be the focus of that response, we have to be together and do that, I think that that may carry the day. It's going to take a lot of coalescing."
The high court is expected to rule on a lawsuit brought by conservatives and backed by the GOP. They say that under the law, the aid is limited to states operating their own insurance marketplaces, and is not allowed for the roughly three dozen that use the federal HealthCare.gov website.
Democrats say the overall bill's context makes clear that the subsidies were designed to go to residents of every state.
In the 34 states most likely to be hit hardest — should the justices erase those subsidies — about 6.4 million people receive the aid, averaging $272 monthly, according to the Health and Human Services Department. Analysts have warned that most of those people would no longer be able to afford health coverage if the assistance ended.
Many Republicans say that since Obama would not let them kill his own law, a complete overhaul will have to await the outcome of the 2016 elections.
Trade rescue effort
President Barack Obama and top Republicans in Congress joined forces on a quick, bipartisan rescue attempt Wednesday for the administration's trade agenda, left for dead in the House last week in a revolt carried out by Democrats and backed by organized labor.
Officials said the Republican-controlled House would vote as early as Thursday on a measure to give Obama enhanced negotiating authority the administration seeks as part of an effort to complete an 11-nation trade deal with Pacific Rim countries.