Remarks in 2010 by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) days before the enactment of Obamacare may weaken the premise of a major case before the Supreme Court called King v. Burwell, which threatens to cripple the health care law.
The lawsuit, which was widely seen as a stretch when it was first filed, contends that the text of the Affordable Care Act unambiguously blocks premium tax credits for Americans in three-dozen states which didn’t build their own insurance exchange and lawfully turned over the task to the federal government. To bolster their case the plaintiffs argue that, even though the authors of the law disagree, Congress intended to enact this restriction in order to encourage states to build their own exchanges.
Ryan’s comments during the debate on the heath care reform bill suggest that he believed otherwise. Here’s what Ryan — then the ranking member of the Budget Committee, who went on to become the Budget Committee chairman and now chairs the powerful Ways & Means Committee — said at a hearing on March 15, 2010, while the House was taking up the Senate version of the bill, which President Barack Obama signed into law days later. (Emphasis added).
“You’re taking money out of this program to create a brand new open-ended entitlement. And it’s a new open-ended entitlement that basically says to just about everybody in this country, people making less than $100,000, ‘You know what? If your health care expenses exceed anywhere from 2 to 9.8 percent of your adjusted gross income, don’t worry about it. Taxpayers got you covered. Government’s gonna subsidize the rest.” …
“From our perspective, these state-based exchanges [in the Senate version] are very little in difference between the House version — which has a big federal exchange, just putting the same rules in place. But what we’re basically saying to people making less than 400 FPL [400 percent of the federal poverty level], or in real language that’s about $100,000, is ‘Don’t worry about it. Taxpayers got you covered.’“
Ryan expressed no doubt that the relevant language in the bill (which remained in the final version) would apply the subsidies to Americans of a certain income level regardless of where in the country they lived.
His remarks, which haven’t received much attention until now, add to the overwhelming body of evidence that members of Congress, staffers, policy experts, and the media covering the health reform debate all understood the law to be providing for subsidies on the exchanges, whether state or federal.
Somewhere along the way, Ryan appears to have had a change of heart. He co-signed a brief dated Dec. 29, 2014, with other Republicans asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the federal exchange subsidies, after the justices took the case.
It should be noted that Ryan’s comments — sent to TPM by the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal legal group helping defending Obamacare in court — aren’t dispositive of the law’s meaning or of what the Democratic-led Congress intended. So they do not compel the courts to rule a certain way. But they represent another blow to an argument underpinning the King lawsuit, which is set to be argued in March and decided by the end of June.
Given a chance to respond to this article, Ryan’s office disagreed with the premise and said his remarks in the 2010 hearing are “not relevant” to the King Supreme Court case.