Even as Republicans in Washington (and more quietly, in the states) scramble for a post-King v. Burwell contingency plan that would extend Obamacare subsidies threatened by the suit, Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint–not the most prominent South Carolina Republican in the news this week–warned them not to go there. In a Washington Examiner op-ed with the unambiguous headline, “Let the Subsidies Die,” Demint endorsed legislation from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) that would repeal Obamacare’s regulations and benefit mandates entirely.
The thing progressives need to understand in watching this sound-and-light show is that nobody in Republicanland (at least at the federal level) is actually trying to extend Obamacare subsidies, even for a day. The leading House and Senate proposals make any such extension strictly contingent on the repeal of the individual and employer mandates that drive the whole Affordable Care Act system. The President is not going to sign such legislation. So the most charitable interpretation of the intra-GOP argument DeMint is airing is that it exposes differences between those who want to use the Obamacare structure (e.g., the exchanges, and perhaps purchasing subsidies) for a future conservative health care “reform,” and those who don’t. The less charitable interpretation is this is all Kabuki aimed at pretending the President is the obstacle to an Obamacare “fix” which, as he’s pointed out, would require a one-page bill establishing that Congress meant what it meant in 2009.
DeMint’s ukase does reflect something I’ve been writing about from the moment it appeared King v. Burwell would make it to SCOTUS: If, against the current betting, the Court does strike down subsidies in a majority of the states, the GOP’s conservative “base” will erupt into street celebrations that will not be terribly congruent with the crocodile tears Republican solons will shed over the six million or so people who are suddenly facing the possible loss of their health insurance. What else can you expect after the vast propaganda campaign against Obamacare that Republican pols and conservative media have been conducting 24/7 since before the law was enacted? So of course DeMint will take advantage of the opportunity to tell Members of Congress they should celebrate the partial demise of the abomination created by the slave-drivers of collectivism, instead of succumbing to the RINO temptation of showing compassion. After all, the six million people whose insurance is at risk would be liberated!