Lost amid the mewing over the Trump administration’s decision last week to end Obamacare subsidy payments to insurance companies was one salient fact: The payments are illegal.
Recall that the Obama administration originally asked Congress to appropriate the funds as part of the Affordable Care Act. But no legislation ever made it through the House and Senate. In response, President Barack Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services unilaterally began disbursing the payouts anyway. You remember that “pen and phone” thing.
House Republicans sued, arguing that the executive branch may not dole out money without congressional approval. In 2016, a federal judge issued a 38-page opinion ruling that the Mr. Obama had exceeded his constitutional authority and illegally funded the subsidies. Shocker.
“Congress is the only source for such an appropriation and no public money can be spent without one,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer. The case is currently under appeal.
To summarize: The Obama administration went around Congress and the Constitution to impose its health care plan; in contrast, President Donald Trump has decided to follow the law.
Of course, given that Republicans have failed in their effort to kill Obamacare, there’s nothing to stop Congress from reaching a deal on the payments and authorizing a spending measure. On Tuesday, Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced they had a framework to do just that. We’ll see.
Mr. Trump’s decision to end the corporate handouts was no doubt intended to pressure Democrats to sit down at the table. If the Alexander-Murray compromise falls apart, it will reveal that Democrats care more about election optics than actually preserving the taxpayer help that mitigates insurance costs for lower-income Americans forced into Obamacare.