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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

June may be the cruelest month.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a case involving tax rebates for the purchase of health insurance. The impact of this ruling cannot be overstated.

The Affordable Care Act allows states to create their own health insurance markets through which state residents can buy policies. Depending on income and other individual factors, residents may be eligible for tax rebates for the purchase of insurance. If a state declines to establish its own exchange, state residents may still buy government-subsidized insurance through the federal exchange (healthcare.gov).

Without these tax rebates, however, health insurance would become too expensive for many otherwise healthy policyholders, driving them out of the market. If those healthy policyholders left, prices would skyrocket for those who remained, especially the sick.

The more prices soar, the more people leave.

The more people leave, the more prices soar — and the more sick people are forced out.

About 9 million residents in more than 30 states may be affected by the court’s ruling. Many could die because they can’t afford insurance, as they did in the old system before President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats passed this law in 2010.

Among actuaries and policymakers, the above description is called a “death spiral” — the slow, and then precipitous, unraveling of a health insurance market after a keystone (federal tax rebates) has been removed. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiff in King v. Burwell, all of the above could happen, and fast.

You’d think the GOP would be happy with the judicial branch doing what the legislative branch could not. No Republicans voted for the law. Mitt Romney campaigned on repealing it. House Republicans have voted to repeal it more than 60 times. Virginia congressman David Brat recently said the health care law, also called “Obamacare,” was crippling the U.S. economy, making it more like Communist North Korea’s.

But now that the Supreme Court is poised to strike down parts of the law, the Republican Party’s leadership appears to be in a state of paralysis. If the justices rule in favor of the government, conservatives will rage. If they rule in favor of the plaintiff, the GOP, having control of both chambers of Congress, will be responsible for doing something to save a health care system, and individual lives, spinning out of control.

There is little evidence the Republicans will do anything.

Indeed, on Monday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in essence that the Court’s conservatives are on their own. “Don’t expect us to predetermine the Supreme Court,” he said. “We have to first see what their decision is and what we have to solve.”

Why no action? Party leaders probably want to avoid appearing culpable. In doing nothing, the party can plausibly blame the Court for what will be an actuarial disaster. 

Rank-and-file Republicans, however, disagree.

They believe that doing something, anything, will reassure the high court’s conservatives that it’s OK to invalidate key provisions of the health care law without fear of jeopardizing the lives and security of an estimated 9 million Americans. Florida congressman Tom Rooney told the Wall Street Journal that “if we look like we are caught flat-footed, we may be putting into the justices’ brains that the opposition is not ready.”

But the opposition isn’t ready. It never was.

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In a new report, the American Academy of Actuaries found that nothing the GOP has proposed will stop “the massive disruption of the health care marketplace that would result from a ruling against the Obama administration,” according to The Hill newspaper.

The Republicans have proposed eliminating the “individual mandate,” but if healthy individuals are not required to buy insurance, only the sick will be left in the risk pool. That, the report found, would “threaten the viability” of the entire market.

The Republicans have also proposed extending tax rebates temporarily, but that, the report found, would only “delay the market disruption.”

Moreover, a ruling against the Obama administration would be detrimental to the insurance industry itself. Companies cannot adjust rates mid-year, the report said, so a sudden change in the law may trigger huge losses. “That’s really the biggest worry for most us working in the field,” Cathy Murphy-Barro, the author of the report, told The Hill.

Thing is, it’s unlikely the Republicans will ever be ready.

There is no conservative alternative to a conservative law.

The framework for the Affordable Care Act was devised decades ago by conservative policy analysts searching for a free-market alternative to government-run health care. The result of their search was something very much like the Affordable Care Act. In other words, the law we have now is what conservative Republicans wanted back then.

This is why Republican proposals for replacing the law sound like what’s already in the law. Indeed, the Republicans, including those who brought King v. Burwell, have been seeking the destruction of a conservative law built on conservative principles.

One would hope that reason would prevail among Supreme Court justices.

Don’t hold your breath.

During oral arguments in March, administration lawyers tried to explain the “death spiral,” but Justice Antonin Scalia was dismissive. He said, “If the consequences are as disastrous as you say, so many million people without—without insurance and whatnot, yes, I think this Congress would act.”

John Stoehr (@johnastoehr) is a lecturer in political science at Yale. Follow him on Twitter and Medium.

Photo: SEIU International via Flickr

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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