John Roberts Chides Congress On Obamacare’s ‘Inartful Drafting’

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Chief Justice John Roberts may have upheld a crucial part of Obamacare in King v. Burwell, but not without a few choice words for Congress, accusing it of “inartful drafting” in crafting the law.

“The Affordable Care Act contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting,” Roberts wrote in his majority opinion for King v. Burwell. “Several features of the Act’s passage contributed to that unfortunate reality. Congress wrote key parts of the Act behind closed doors, rather than through ‘the traditional legislative process.'”

Roberts went on to knock lawmakers for using the so-called reconciliation process to pass the Affordable Care Act, which he describes as a “complicated budgetary procedure,” as it “limited opportunities for debate and amendment, and bypassed the Senate’s normal 60-vote filibuster requirement.”

“As a result, the Act does not reflect the type of care and deliberation that one might expect of such significant legislation,” Roberts wrote in the opinion.

He also quoted the characterization made by Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1947 of a cartoon “in which a senator tells his colleagues ‘I admit this new bill is too complicated to understand. We’ll just have to pass it to find out what it means.’”

While that cartoon is decades-old, Roberts may also have been referencing a remark made in 2010 by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the Affordable Care Act that “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

Nevertheless, Roberts and the five justices who joined him ruled that in the context of the larger law, subsidies are available to consumers in states where the federal government operates the health care insurance exchanges.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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