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Sunday, December 4, 2016

It’s reform that President Obama has been pushing for, pitching and defending for over half a decade. It has survived one Supreme Court challenge, a calamitous website launch, and a national election during which it was the focal issue.

The moral argument

Days before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case that could determine the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama spoke at the Catholic Hospital Association Conference to make an impassioned moral case for his signature legislation.

The president’s remarks, and the accompanying webpage created by the White House, located the ACA in the context of a larger project of using government to improve people’s lives. And his speech employed the same kind of soaring, Bible-inflected language he used to great effect in his 2008 presidential campaign.

America, Obama said in prepared remarks, is “sustained by the idea that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper. That we have an obligation to put ourselves in our neighbor’s shoes, and to see the common humanity in each other.”

It is not a legal argument, and it’s unlikely to sway the Supreme Court, which heard arguments on the case at issue in March. Nor will it influence Republicans in Congress or on the campaign trail, even those with much to lose, who are already speciously readjusting their talking points to shift the blame to Obama when and if their constituents’ subsidies collapse.

The legal argument

The plaintiffs in King v. Burwell allege that subsidies offered to low- and middle-income Americans buying insurance on federal exchanges are not permitted under the legislation as it was passed. The exact wording of the statute says subsidies are only available to those who purchase insurance on exchanges “established by the state.”

The nakedly political case hinges on those four words, which are widely acknowledged to have been a careless, sloppy mistake. Furthermore, the words make little sense in context with the rest of the legislation — since the federal exchanges only exist for people who live in states that did not set up their own exchanges.

If the Supreme Court delivers the ruling sought by plaintiffs, the decision could gut the federal subsidies, relied upon by as many as 9 million people, and instigate a widespread financial disaster.

Neither the White House nor GOP lawmakers have a good backup plan in place, should the Supreme Court rule to end the subsidies.

At the G7 Summit Monday, President Obama stood by his conviction that the Court would rule in the government’s favor, that the law worked, and that he was comfortable not having a plan B prepared.

President Obama noted in his speech Tuesday that the law’s success could be measured in “the number of newly insured families, the number of lives saved,” and that “none of the horrors” predicted by the ACA’s opponents or conservative pundits had come to pass.

You can view the full speech here.

Screenshot via WhiteHouse.gov

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