Unless you???re living under a rock on the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, you???ve probably heard of an Obamacare case being argued next week before the Supreme Court.
The case, King v. Burwell, has something to do with Obamacare, but it???s about far more than that. At its heart, the case is about an illegal attempt by the IRS to rewrite the law. My organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is behind the King case as well as a second challenge, Halbig v. Burwell, currently on hold at the federal D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
There is, unsurprisingly, an obscene amount of noise over these cases. The White House???s public relations machine, powerful insurance companies, well-funded liberal think tanks, and activist organizations have taken to the airways and Internet with warnings of impending doom??????human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria??????if the King plaintiffs win.
But let???s not be hypocritical. In our current political environment, as much vitriol is routinely levied against the current Oval Office occupant and his policies. And too many Republicans have focused less on solutions than on simply stopping President Obama and ???his??? law. This name calling needs to stop.
We need to focus instead on what this case is really about. It???s about people, their freedom to choose their health insurance, and most importantly, who the Constitution empowers to write our laws. (Hint: It???s not the IRS.)
Aspects of Obamacare have harmed millions of people by causing them to lose their jobs, reducing their hours or pay, and taking away their health plans or ability to choose their own doctor. And many Americans are also paying more for their insurance and higher taxes.
But again, the King case is more than ???just about Obamacare.??? Yes, it is about protecting millions of Americans, like those mentioned above, from the harms of Obamacare???s individual and employer mandates, penalties, and costs. But it is also about stopping a dangerous precedent that would give federal agencies the authority to ignore laws enacted by Congress. The Constitution gives the power to make laws to Congress???representatives elected by the people???not to executive branch agencies largely unaccountable to the public.
Our Republic has stood on key principles???among them the protection of individual rights and due process. Many Constitutional constraints are aimed not at citizens but on behalf of them to confine government.
When duly enacted laws are passed, those who find themselves on the losing side are free to try to change them. Congress and the President can always repeal or amend existing statutes. Yes, the process is cumbersome, but that is as the framers of our Constitution intended it. And protecting that process is our motivation for spending so much time, effort, and resources bringing this case before the Court.
So what did the IRS do?
When members of Congress wrote Obamacare, they included an incentive for the states to set up their own health insurance exchanges: taxpayer-funded subsidies to reduce the cost of insurance for lower-income Americans. Yet, the law clearly states that subsidies are to be provided ???through an Exchange established by the State.??? And the choice to set up a state-based exchange was left to the states. But, when two-thirds of states opted out of establishing their own exchanges, the IRS unilaterally ???reinterpreted??? the law to extend subsidies to all states.
As a friend of mine summed it up, ???It???s not right or fair to give people a democratic choice and then have unelected regulators overrule them and take their choices away.???
There is no mystery what a victory for the King plaintiffs would mean. They and millions of other Americans could see some relief from Obamacare???s individual and employer mandates and penalties. A victory could pave the way for health care alternatives that offer states more flexibility, and give people the freedom to choose more affordable plans that better suit their needs. It would mean insurance companies will no longer receive ???free money??? in the form of taxpayer dollars.
And, yes, a small minority of people will have a problem with their current policies. But it was the IRS that knowingly and deliberately created this mess. And we shouldn???t let the risk of disruptions prevent us from protecting the Constitution.
Thankfully, there are a variety of ways Congress and state leaders can work together to protect our most vulnerable Americans. The president needs to show he is willing to work with congressional leaders and governors to develop a plan that addresses these issues.
The bottom line is simple. If the King plaintiffs lose, the court will have given the IRS, and by extension other federal agencies, a green light to ignore laws enacted by Congress and flout the Constitution???s separation of powers.
I???m reminded of what the Apostle Mark wrote in chapter 8 of his Gospel: ???For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul????
I pray that our country won???t need to face that dilemma.
(To learn more about our case, please join us at a panel discussion and reception at this week???s Conservative Political Action Conference.)
Lawson Bader is president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).