Top House Dem: Obamacare Language On Subsidies ‘Not As Clear As I’d Like It’

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The second-ranked House Democrat says the legislative language in the Affordable Care Act under review by the Supreme Court is “not as clear as” he would like it to be.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told TPM that the Supreme Court “would be unjustified” and “defy logic” if it invalidated insurance tax credits for Americans in three-dozen states that did not set up an exchange under Obamacare.

But in a candid admission, he suggested his party could have done a better job writing the provision that is now in the crosshairs of a major legal threat to Democrats’ biggest legislative achievement in generations.

“The language is not as clear as I’d like it,” Hoyer said in an interview on Wednesday. “But it is clear that the intent and the understanding of the U.S. Congress majority was that subsidies would be available to all people with limited means and income who were unable to pay for health insurance.”

He described it as a mistake to allow language in the final bill that could be misconstrued.

His comments came six weeks before the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell, which could blow a hole in the law if the government loses. The challengers point to one provision of the law that says the subsidies were available to those buying “through an Exchange established by the State.”

Hoyer, the House majority leader in 2010 when Obamacare passed, said “nobody ever discussed” restricting the subsidies to state-run exchanges during the lengthy debate. “I would certainly hope the court would come to a conclusion like that on the subsidies,” he said. “Our perspective is there is no doubt about what congressional intent was.”

The challengers claim that Congress purposely limited the subsidies in an effort to entice states to build their own exchanges. For the states that refused, the law created a backstop federally-run exchange.

He said that if the Supreme Court were to ax the subsidies, “I certainly think we think it ought to be corrected legislatively. Whether that’s possible or not, we don’t know the answer to that. … As you know we have a majority party in the House and Senate who’ve articulated a desire to not have the Affordable Care Act, so that would create a challenge.”

Hoyer predicted that Republicans would face enormous pressure from their constituents to support a fix for the law if the Supreme Court ruled against it.

Shortly after the interview, Hoyer’s office reached out to TPM to provide the following statement from him to clarify his position in the case:

“The statute to make premium tax credits and affordable health care broadly available to all Americans, wherever they live, is clear. There’s no mistake in the intent of Congress, and I fully expect the Court will rule in our favor, making a fix unnecessary.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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