By Warren Richey
After narrowly surviving a bitter constitutional showdown in 2010, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is once again in serious peril as the US Supreme Court prepares this week to take up a new legal challenge that threatens to gut Obamacare.
A decision in favor of the challengers could block tax credits and render health insurance unaffordable for more than 7 million of the 11 million Americans who have signed up for coverage on healthcare exchanges. That, in turn, might plunge the president’s health care reform effort into a death spiral, according to economists.
Oral argument is set for Wednesday.
The case, King v. Burwell (14-114), arises at a time when President Obama is increasingly taking aggressive executive action to advance his policy goals – often in open defiance of Congress.
Last June, the Supreme Court rejected an attempt by the president to unilaterally declare the Senate in recess so he could use his recess appointment authority to bypass Senate confirmation and place three new members on the National Labor Relations Board. All nine justices ruled against the president, including his own nominees to the high court.
Two weeks ago a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction blocking an attempt by the president to unilaterally grant protected status and work permits to as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants.
The question in Wednesday’s Supreme Court case is whether the IRS usurped power reserved to Congress when it enacted a regulation authorizing distribution of billions of dollars in tax credits through health care exchanges set up by the federal government.
The administration maintains that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) authorizes the IRS to pass such regulations. Challengers argue that only Congress is empowered to allocate and spend tax money in that way.
Specifically, Wednesday’s high court case focuses on how tax credits are meant to be distributed to low- and moderate-income Americans to help them pay for health insurance.