Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the health committee and a chief author of Obamacare, tore into an appeals court ruling this week that forbid the federal exchange to provide subsidies to millions of Americans in 36 states.
“It’s nuts,” he told TPM in an interview in the Capitol on Thursday.
Harkin said he’s certain Congress intended to provide the premium tax credits on the federal HealthCare.gov exchange, rather than simply the state exchange, as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday.
“Of course we did!” an impassioned Harkin said. “It’s plain to see. You can read our reports and everything else. … I was one of the people who wrote it! Of course we wanted it to be accessible to everyone, not just people on state exchanges.”
The senator said he doesn’t recall any discussion during the drafting of the law to forbid subsidies on the federal exchange. “No,” he said. “I don’t know of anything like that.” He suggested the judges misconstrued what is, at best, a poorly worded section of the law. “The Fourth Circuit [Court of Appeals] got it right,” he said, referring to a separate circuit court ruling that upheld the subsidies.
The Obama administration intends to request an en banc ruling at the D.C. Circuit, or a re-vote where all active judge may participate. Harkin, who is retiring in January, said there’s “no doubt” in his mind the full bench will reverse the decision, after which he predicted the Supreme Court wouldn’t take the case.
“It was a three judge panel that decided that. Two of them are Republicans, one’s a Democrat, and they just decided that way,” he said. “They’ve appealed it to an en banc setting and it’ll be overturned. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
If the ruling stands it would blow a huge hole in Obamacare and imperil the sustainability of other core provisions of the law. Millions of Americans would see their premiums rise, some of whom would no longer be able to afford insurance.