GOP fears grow over ObamaCare challenge

Greg Nash

Republican fears are mounting over a Supreme Court case that the party has long hailed as its best chance to undo ObamaCare.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday on a GOP-backed case that threatens to erase healthcare subsidies for 8 million people. The vast stakes are raising alarm among Republicans, particularly in the Senate, who increasingly fear a backlash at the polls if their party can’t find a fix.

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A plaintiff victory would bring Republicans the closest to repealing the Affordable Care Act. But the party has begun to fret about the fallout from King v. Burwell, fearing the sudden loss of subsidies could put pressure on lawmakers and governors to restore them.

The loss of subsidies for millions of people would also put the Obama administration on the offense for the first time to protect its signature healthcare law.

A White House crusade against the GOP would mean a firestorm of accusations that the party is taking away healthcare and endangering lives — building up for the 2016 election.

To avoid that situation, some Republicans are floating a stopgap that would keep the subsidies in place temporarily.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) promised this week that he would introduce legislation that creates a "temporary model to protect those harmed by ObamaCare" in which people could still receive financial help for their healthcare costs for 18 months after a court decision.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchBacteria found ahead of Olympics underscores need for congressional action for new antibiotics Burr pledges to retire after one more Senate term Leaders appoint allies, adversaries to Puerto Rico growth task force MORE (R-Utah) hinted at a similar proposal earlier in the week, promising "a short-term solution” until a Republican can enter the White House.

The willingness to embrace the subsidies from two staunch ObamaCare foes is a major shift in tactics, signaling a growing sense of urgency within the party on the biggest court case of the year.

“I’m really, really shocked. We were all like, ‘whoa,’ ” one GOP Senate aide said of Hatch’s remarks about a short-term fix. “That is easily one of the most constructive things a Republican has said regarding King, ever.”

Republicans are under intense pressure to present a strategy, before the court meets next week to discuss the case. Even as the healthcare law remains unpopular nationally, polls show the vast majority of Americans support the subsidies.

But hard-line members remain firmly opposed to any piece of the healthcare law, including subsidies.

“There’s no reason for us to stretch out the funding for an unconstitutional extension. There’s no reason to do that. It just puts more pressure on us to adopt more ObamaCare,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told The Hill this week.

State lawmakers across the country, though, are seeking their own fallback plans. Nine states are in talks to keep subsidies by creating their own exchanges, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which would make customers who bought insurance through the federal exchanges in those states eligible for subsidies under the current law.

Democrats argue that Congress should simply tweak any language in the Affordable Care Act that the justices rule unconstitutional. And the White House maintains that it has no plans to prevent the massive disruption that would be caused by the ruling.

With just four months until the Supreme Court’s ruling, some Republicans are warning that time is running out for the party’s long-sought alternative.

In an explosive op-ed in The Wall Street Journal this week, Sasse warned the Republican Party could “lose the whole war” against the law because too many Republicans remain divided on a replacement strategy.

That division was clear on Thursday at a session of the Conservative Political Action Conference dedicated to replacing it.

Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoGoonies, Pokemon and ‘transsexual shake’ speak to raucous scene at convention GOP passes rules vote over outcry from Trump opponents Overnight Healthcare: Feds defend ObamaCare's affordability MORE (R-Wyo.) said Congress is “not prepared” to pass any kind of fix to ObamaCare, including subsidies, and that the party would use the chance to push its own replacement strategy.

"There is nothing that the president is going to sign that would do what we want to do in terms of repealing and replacing it," Barrasso said.