Republicans want to have it both ways regarding the Affordable Care Act: They want the courts to kill Obamacare — but not until after the 2020 general election so they can avoid voters' wrath as the reality sets in that millions of Americans have been thrown off their health care coverage.
That's why a new push by a coalition of Democratic-led states to get the Supreme Court to settle the question before the election is so important. If the GOP is right about the wisdom of eliminating the ACA, let their politicians defend the effects of that stance in campaigning before November. But maneuvering to evade it as a campaign issue is the coward's way out.
When then-President Barack Obama's signature policy went into effect in 2010, it faced an uphill climb for public acceptance. But a majority of the nation has since come around. Polls show more than 50% of the public now supports the health care law designed to provide medical insurance to previously unprotected citizens.
The law's popularity explains why, after years of vowing to kill Obamacare, Republicans were unable to do that when they held full control of Congress and the White House in 2017 and 2018.
So the party is trying to get the courts to do what Congress couldn't. A group of Republican state attorneys generals — including now-Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri — sued to overturn the law, arguing that because Congress had nixed one part of it (the tax penalty for failure to buy health insurance), the rest had to go.
A friendly Texas federal judge bought that shaky argument, sending the case to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which last month essentially kicked most of the case back to the lower court for further review.
Had the appeals court ruled conclusively either way, the case would likely already be on its way to a Supreme Court review. By sending it back down — on a vote of two Republican-appointed judges, against one Democratic appointee — it likely keeps the case off the high court's docket until after the general election, unless justices intervene to hear it sooner.
Democratic state attorneys general are asking the Supreme Court to do exactly that, arguing that people on Obamacare deserve to know as soon as possible whether they're going to lose their coverage. House Democrats have joined in that call.
But Republicans haven't. And plaintiffs' attorney Rob Henneke has openly opposed it. He accuses Democrats of being "influenced by the political calendar."
They are, and they should be. Americans have a right to know before the Nov. 3 general election whether Republicans are going to be successful in throwing some 20 million citizens off their health plans. The fact that the plaintiffs and the GOP want to prevent that reckoning until at least Nov. 4 should speak volumes about the health care disaster they themselves know is looming.
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