It’s been a long time since we’ve had a week like this in America. A long time indeed.
Conservatives and religious leaders (some of them anyway) are railing over (a) the Supreme Court decision on “Obamacare” and (b) on marriage equality.
Fat Tony’s head was exploding as he went into full Scalia mode, penning two withering minority dissents filled with invective primarily against the majority Justices and the Court threat to American democracy. It is clear he believes that he, and only he, has cornered the market on truth.
Too bad Tony. In comparison, his glum compatriots, Alito the lesser and Clarence the Silent could only go along.
Our Chief Justice John Roberts split his votes – for Obamacare and against marriage equality. He knows how to walk the line. It allowed him to preserve his conservative credentials.
What were these cases about and why were they important?
Several years ago there was a challenge to the ACA (Affordable Care Act) on the grounds that the government could not force individuals to buy health insurance from private insurers under the threat of penalty. The plaintiffs essentially characterized this penalty as a “fine”. The IRS, responsible for collecting the penalty said “not so”; the penalty is not a fine. It is a tax to be collected when the individual files his tax returns – no health insurance means a higher tax. A lower court affirmed this decision which was then appealed to the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Roberts was the deciding vote in a 5-4 decision penning the majority argument that the penalty was a tax and not a fine. Scalia of course led the opposition.
No one of course mentioned that those making the argument that they couldn’t be forced to buy insurance from a private company also opposed the inclusion of a public sector option.
This time the case revolved around the availability of tax credits for those qualifying residents of states which had not set up their own “health exchanges”.
The Act required the creation of an “Exchange” in each State—basically, a marketplace that allows people to compare and purchase insurance plans. The Act gives each State the opportunity to establish its own Exchange, but provides that the Federal Government will establish “such Exchange” if the State does not.
The Act provides that tax credits “shall be allowed” for any “applicable taxpayer, but only if the taxpayer has enrolled in an insurance plan through “an Exchange established by the State”, as opposed to simply picking up the phone and buying health insurance directly from the insurer which would make one ineligible for tax credits. An IRS regulation interprets that language as making tax credits available on “an Exchange,” regardless of whether the Exchange is established and operated by a State or by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Four plaintiffs in Virginia argued that qualifying residents in their state were not eligible to receive tax credits as Virginia (the state) had not set up an “exchange” and that the law was not meant to include the Federal exchange, which was specifically set up for residents of those states which had not set up their own exchanges. .
The plaintiffs were essentially arguing that the Federal exchange was not a “state exchange” since it was not established by Virginia. In essence, they were arguing that the intent of Congress was to omit tax credits for those residents of states which had not set up their own health exchanges.
A victory would have stripped over three million people of their tax credit subsidies – those residing in states such as Florida (where I live) which has done everything possible to bring down Obamacare.
My youngest daughter and her husband are receiving such credits. They had health insurance before the ACA – it was their largest monthly expense – bigger than their mortgage. The ACA allowed them to save some money and afford a better health care plan. They applied through the federal exchange only because Florida refused to set up an exchange for it’s residents. It rejected additional Medicaid funds as well for those too poor to buy insurance even with a federal tax credit.
Well by a 6-3 decision the ACA was saved – and Scalia went nuts. His argument that the words “state exchange” precluded tax credits for those who applied through the Federal Exchange was tortured logic to the extreme. Too bad. Shit happens Tony. The intent of the law was clear – all qualifying residents were eligible whether or not they applied through their state or the Federal Exchange.
Now don’t get me wrong. I would scrap Obamacare in a heart beat for a single payer system – Medicare for all. Alternatively, I would add a public option to the exchanges to give applicants a choice between private or public insurance. But what we have is what we currently have. Thanks to Chief Justice John Roberts.
As for marriage equality – what can I say?
I don’t expect churches and the religious to accept the ruling without gasping for breath. But it doesn’t affect you directly – you may continue to practice your beliefs – I do not. Your church won’t be forced to marry anyone. Catholic churches didn’t marry divorced people nor perform inter-faith marriages unless it was agreed in advance that any children would be raised as Catholics.
On the other hand, bakers will probably have to bake wedding cakes for gay weddings. One should no more be able to reject a wedding cake for a gay couple than you can for a black couple. Your business serves the public.
You don’t have to like gay people. You don’t have to hang around with them. You are still free to throw your gay son or daughter into the street. You can still fire them.
Official marriage on the other hand insures that your son or daughter’s partner can decide on medical care if need be; that they can’t be barred from a hospital room by hostile family. It makes them next of kin, guardian of any children, beneficiary of any estate, eligible for social security survivor benefits etc.
That’s what is meant by “equality”.
Scalia and the minority argues that this is a decision that each state should make. Kind of like the states making decisions on slavery, inter-racial marriage, health exchanges, voting rights, segregated schools etc. This is the same guy who has turned corporations into people. He is the ideal of the person that dumb people think is smart.
So live your life and mind your own business. And stop worrying about what Jesus would do.