In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The story of whether Congress ever intended to limit Obamacare subsidies to state-based exchanges begins and ends with the Congressional Budget Office. And what it reveals about the latest legal threat to Obamacare dramatically undercuts the arguments against the law.

No one person or institution was more central to the debate over Obamacare than the CBO. Every tweak to the law was funneled through the accounting brains of the non-partisan congressional scorekeeper to determine how much it would cost. Passage of the entire law hinged on its reports. Votes were delayed until CBO could finish its scoring. Specific provisions lived or died by its decrees. It is safe to say that the health care reform law we have today is in large part the result of the CBO's work.

But like everybody else on Capitol Hill in 2009 and 2010, from legislators to the journalists who covered them, the CBO's quants never even considered the scenario that Obamacare faces today. A federal appeals court has ruled in Halbig v. Burwell that the law's crucial subsidies are not available on the federal insurance exchange, HealthCare.gov, putting coverage for nearly 5 million people in 36 states at risk. That outcome, as bad as it would be for the uninsured, would dramatically lower the cost of Obamacare -- but the CBO never entertained that possibility for the same reason no one else did: It was not how the law was supposed to work.

Remember: Billions of dollars were at stake and everybody was watching. If the costs of Obamacare subsidies could shift by billions of dollars depending on whether a state built its own exchange or instead used the federal exchange, the CBO would have been the one to know about it. And you can bet that the nervous Obama White House, wavering Democrats, and eager-to-pounce Republicans would have responded if the CBO had interpreted any provision of the bill as putting subsidies at risk to state decision-making and put a figure on the financial fallout of that possible scenario. But that alternative picture of the law's costs was never created because nobody at the time understood the law to work that way.

Many of the journalists who followed the debate have retraced their steps, Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic and Sarah Kliff of Vox to name just two, arguing that their experiences, particularly talking with members and their staff during the legislative debate, shows that this legal challenge has no basis in reality and history. But it's even more than that. Not only did the legislators themselves never intend to cut out subsidies for the federal exchange, the CBO, that all-important arbiter of the law's costs, never once factored it into its analyses.

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After having to yank their border crisis legislation, House Republicans scrambled on Friday morning to coalesce around a largely symbolic new proposal which spends $694 million and significantly toughens up laws against young undocumented immigrants and children coming from Central America.

Emerging from a meeting, many Republicans expressed confidence they'll have the votes to pass the legislation on Friday — including Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN), two previous holdouts, who said the new bill would rein in President Barack Obama's current and future actions to ease deportations for undocumented immigrants.

"This House is going to make a resounding statement today that says, 'Stop, Mr. President. Don't violate the Constitution,'" King said.

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A new legal argument from the Mississippi Republican Party may turn everything about what state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-MS) has been saying about his election challenge on its head.

Since the Mississippi runoff election for U.S. Senate between McDaniel and Cochran (R-MS) on June 24, McDaniel's challenge to the election results have centered on the argument that Cochran won through illegal crossover votes from Democrats. But, the party's lawyer said, a court could easily rule that such votes are legal.

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A chaotic House Republican conference decided on Thursday to delay the start of the August recess until they muster the votes for legislation to address the border crisis.

"We'll stay until we vote," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) told reporters upon emerging from a full House GOP meeting that lasted more than one and a half hour.

The meeting was called after Republican leaders abruptly pulled their $659 million supplemental legislation, which also toughened up border security laws, ahead of a scheduled vote Thursday. The decision was made in the face of strong opposition from conservatives. Some on the right — including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) — griped the plan didn't do enough to rein in President Barack Obama's executive actions on deportations.

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House Republicans officially gave Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) their seal of approval on Wednesday to sue President Barack Obama, marking the first time in U.S. history that a chamber of Congress has endorsed a lawsuit against a president.

The House adopted the resolution by a vote of 225-201. Five Republicans joined a unanimous Democratic conference to vote against the measure. They were Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Walter Jones (R-NC), Paul Broun (R-GA), Steve Stockman (R-TX) and Scott Garrett (R-NJ).

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Nobody who watched the genesis of Obamacare could have conceived that we would get to this point. When a federal appeals court ruled last week that the law's subsidies were not available in the 36 states that used HealthCare.gov this year, it was the culmination of a unexpectedly turbulent legislative process and five ensuing years of willful Republican obstructionism that puts health coverage for nearly 5 million people at risk.

Separate state and federal exchanges were never supposed to exist. A national exchange, a more fully formed HealthCare.gov, if you will, was preferred by House Democrats and the White House. But unforeseen political changes forced Congress and the president to accept state exchanges with a federal backstop.

But then nobody really believed that states would chose not to set up their own exchanges. Until, fueled by the conservative legal challenges that they hoped would undo Obamacare as a whole as well as the politically motivated defiance of Republican governors, a substantial majority of states defaulted to the federal exchange.

Then enterprising opponents of the law discovered the language in one provision of the ACA that is now at the heart of their current legal challenge. They're arguing Congress didn't actually intend for subsidies to go through a federal exchange, even though a fully federal exchange is originally what many members and the White House wanted. Meanwhile, the law's defenders, as well as many journalists who covered its passage like Vox's Sarah Kliff and The New Republic's Brian Beutler, are being confronted with a scenario that they never could have anticipated after years of covering the law's drafting and implementation. It seems simply unthinkable to most of those who have tracked the law closely. But here we are.

This is how it happened.

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In a bit of political gamesmanship, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid floated the idea of using the House GOP's border supplemental bill as a vehicle to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

"Well, if they pass that, maybe it's an opening for us to have a conference on our comprehensive immigration reform bill. They're finally sending us something on immigration; maybe we could do that," the Nevada Democrat told reporters on Tuesday.

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A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that a Florida law that discourages physicians from asking patients about guns is constitutional, despite doctor warnings that such questions are vital to their work.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision that invalidated the 2011 law, advocated by guns rights groups. The law says that "unless information is relevant to patient's medical care or safety or safety of others, inquiries regarding firearm ownership or possession should not be made." It allows for disciplinary action against doctors who violate it.

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