Wyo. Republicans Now Fighting To Preserve Obamacare Funding

Mar 13, 2015

One of the biggest Supreme Court cases of this term could wipe away the insurance subsidies that tens of thousands of Wyoming residents now rely on under so-called Obamacare. Matt Laslo has the story from Washington on how Wyoming Senator John Barrasso is now scrambling to find a Plan B for a law he's staked his name as a doctor opposing.  

Remember the last time the Supreme Court took up so called Obamacare? It surprised Court watchers by ruling the individual health insurance mandate is constitutional under Congress’ power to tax. The Court is now reviewing the constitutionality of the federal government giving health care subsidies to millions of middle class Americans so they can afford the very insurance they've been mandated to acquire. Wyoming’s senior senator, Mike Enzi, says if he were placing a bet, he’d wager those subsidies will get ripped away from more than thirty thousand of his constituents.

"From what I'm told by the lawyers - I'm not a lawyer I'm an accountant - if you read the language, there's no other decision they can make." 

Democrats say the whole case against the subsidies is baseless because it basically hinges on four words: "established by the State." As in, the federal government can only give subsidies to people in states that set up their own health insurance exchanges, which Wyoming and the majority of states rejected. One of the loudest liberal firebrands in Congress, Alan Grayson of Florida, says the case is being driven by the far right. 

"In a more normal legislative environment if the Supreme Court said there's a typo in your bill, please correct it. That typo would be corrected but instead they're already lunging for the conclusion that this possible result to the Supreme Court's consideration in this case that that possible result gets an excuse to gut an effort to make sure that sick people can get the care they need in their life." 

Republicans now control both chambers of Congress. That puts them in an odd little position if the Supreme Court rules in their favor. While the GOP continues to decry the health law and still wants it repealed, they could get punished by their conservative base if it looks like they’re working to fix the law. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis says she’s willing to risk bad optics if millions of Americans get a federal subsidy ripped out of their hands. 

"This is a time when optics have to be brushed aside for the benefit of policies that don’t leave huge swaps of American healthcare consumers in a terrible, terrible situation."

If the GOP is in a tight corner, Wyoming's junior senator John Barrasso is in an even tighter corner. He's devoted most of his public legislative energy over the past few years to combating the law...EVEN setting up a YouTube show explicitly to lambast it and taking to the Senate floor to try and pick it apart seemingly whenever he can. Barrasso, a part of the GOP leadership team in the Senate, is now a part of a group of Republicans tasked with finding a fix if millions of middle class voters lose their health care. But he wants you to rest assured he's not changing his tune on so-called Obamacare.

"Well, you want to make sure that they were protected but not the law."

While Barrasso decries the price tag of Obamacare, he is considering those same those same federal dollars as part of the solution.  But he makes it clear that his plan won't be permanent.

"It would be a temporary transition that would involve federal funds, yes. There are different options available. We're still having discussions. We haven't all signed off on different ways and you've seen different options. One is do you do it with the individuals and the block grant to the states."

That’s also where the GOP is in a bind: whye’re now in power and the party can’t seem to coalesce around a single solution for the nation’s health care problems. Here’s how Senator Enzi puts it.

"We have a plan B. We've always had a plan B. In fact we've got about 10 different plan Bs out there."

Enzi is optimistic though.  

"It's a unique opportunity for us to present a plan that actually will work for every citizen in Wyoming, not just the ones that presently covered that might have gotten subsidies." 

That optimism from many Republicans puts pressure on Barrasso and other Republican Party leaders to prove they can govern after a series of stinging inter-party fights - ranging from abortion to immigration - have left GOP leaders on Capitol Hill angry, embarrassed or both. Over the past few years Barrasso has proven he’s good at trying to undercut the health law at every turn. Now is his turn to show he's just as good at fixing a law he's ridiculed.

"The question is what would the President sign? You know, to really do a full "repeal and replace" the healthcare law you're really talking about the Republican President in the White House, who would be able to do that."

The Court heard the King verse Burwell case on March Fourth, but it won’t release its ruling for months – that gives both parties time to prepare for millions of Americans losing the insurance they just got. Now all eyes are on Barrasso and the GOP to see if they will craft a bill that can become law, or whether the president will pull out his veto pen once again.