Feds Keep Target on Health Care Law in Pandemic, Drawing Ire of Dems

House Democrats, spaced for social distancing, gather for a Thursday news conference on the East Front Steps of Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The morning after the Trump administration told the Supreme Court that Obamacare “must fall” without the tax on people who do not purchase health insurance, Democrats offered swift reproof Friday.

“It is unfathomable that, as we gathered here late at night last night, in the midst of a pandemic, the White House, the administration in the dark of night filed their brief in the Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday at the Capitol. 

The legal fight over the future of Obamacare has come into sharp focus since March, when the Supreme Court agreed to again consider the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Democrats argue Republicans have been trying to use the court to invalidate a law they could not defeat legislatively when in unified control of the federal government.

The Trump administration filed its merits brief late Thursday, giving the first look at the arguments it will raise when the high court hears a challenge to the constitutionality of the signature legislative accomplishment of the Obama administration.

Eight years after the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare’s so-called individual mandate on the grounds that it could be considered a tax, the legislation is at the high court again due to a provision in the 2017 Republican tax cut bill that zeroed out the tax penalty for people who do not obtain health insurance.

Led by Texas, a group of red states argue in the new case that, without the penalty, the law is unconstitutional.

Initially, a federal judge in Texas sided with the states and ruled the entirety of Obamacare must fall without the individual mandate penalty. The Fifth Circuit partially reversed, however, finding the individual mandate could be severed so the rest of the statute stands.

But in its brief to the high court, the Trump administration, which has declined to defend the law, argued there is no evidence Congress intended for Obamacare to stay in place without the individual mandate.

“Because it cannot reasonably by interpreted as a tax, the mandate in its current form exceeds Congress’ enumerated powers,” the administration’s brief states.

A decision striking down Obamacare entirely, the administration argues, would be “a text-and structure-based conclusion” that cannot be overcome by arguments over legislative history. To support this, the administration points to findings in the law’s text that show Congress would not have included other provisions of the health care law if not for the individual mandate.

Pushing back on arguments from the blue states that have intervened to defend Obamacare, the administration argues it would be unreasonable to interpret the individual mandate as a “suggestion” without the backing of the tax penalty. 

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