GOP governors scramble for answers on ObamaCare

Republican governors are scrambling to come up with a response if the Supreme Court cripples ObamaCare, leading to a tangle of divergent views that could make it tougher for the GOP to rally around a single solution.

Political pressure on Republican governors to act will be intense if the high court invalidates subsidies that help millions of their states’ citizens buy health insurance. 

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“The Republicans potentially have a PR nightmare on their hands, because what’s going to happen when 8 million people are going to be denied subsidies?” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist and member of The Hill’s Contributors Blog.

The fight over King v. Burwell is further complicated by the fact that several GOP governors could be launching presidential campaigns near the time the court reveals its decision, expected in June.

Responses from Republican governors are all over the map. 

In Louisiana, where around 160,000 people would lose subsidies, Gov. Bobby Jindal is rejecting any fix to the law, as he makes a play for conservative voters.

Jindal wrote an op-ed in National Review this month arguing people would be better off with no subsidies because, without them, the mandate to buy insurance would no longer apply. 

“Some on the right want to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” he wrote. 

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has emerged in polls as a leading potential GOP White House contender, isn’t completely ruling out a fix but says it should come from Congress. About 180,000 people in his state would lose subsidies.

“While we continue to monitor the federal court case and the pending outcome later this year, ultimately, the responsibility rests with the federal government to fix this federal law,” Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in a statement. “Following the issuance of a decision, we will continue to work with members of Wisconsin’s federal delegation to enact a solution.”

In New Jersey, where 200,000 people could lose subsidies, Gov. Chris Christie has been silent on the issue. His office did not respond to a request for comment. 

“I wouldn’t say I’ve seen a distinct pattern,” said Stuart Butler, a conservative health policy expert at the Brookings Institution. “They go from outright rejectionist states like Bobby Jindal to those that are trying to figure out some way to say, ‘Can we get that money and use it in a more conservative way?’ ”

Because the case centers on the interpretation of a single phrase in the law—“established by the state” — Democrats will be able to pressure Republicans with a politically advantageous argument. The lawsuit argues the phrase makes it illegal to distribute subsidies through the federal insurance marketplace. And Democrats can say it only takes a one-sentence bill to fix the phrasing and restore subsidies for the roughly 8 million people. 

Perhaps the most straightforward solution would be for states to set up their own marketplaces, which would remove all doubt about the phrasing. But that option could invite attacks that Republicans are enabling ObamaCare. 

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, another possible White House contender who has cultivated a “compassionate conservative” profile, appears more open to a state-based solution and did not rule out a state-run marketplace. He told Bloomberg that he is leaving options open and has “good people working on this.” 

“If the court makes a decision that these exchanges get shut down, then we’re going to have to figure something out in Ohio,” he said. 

Governors not mulling White House runs are also raising their voices.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has supported a state-run marketplace in the past, and his state is the furthest along toward using that option. 

He told Michigan Public Radio on Monday that he is waiting to see what the court and Congress do. However, he added that, if the subsidies are struck down, “that raises the question, ‘should we be looking at a state exchange again?’ and that’s a dialogue I would have to have with the Legislature.”

In addition to governors’ efforts, congressional Republicans are working on a range of solutions, though Democrats dismiss them as a charade intended to encourage the court to strike down subsidies. 

Three House committee chairmen have outlined a plan to allow states to opt out of ObamaCare’s mandates and to provide tax credits to help people buy insurance. 

Three Senate chairmen, meanwhile, have outlined a plan to provide financial assistance to let people temporarily keep their health insurance plans. 

That idea was endorsed by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) this week. But it would also put pressure back on the states, calling for giving them “freedom and flexibility” to create their own solutions. 

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), in a Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for the temporary assistance, raised fears of Democratic political advantage if Republicans are not ready. 

“When Team Obama then turns its guns on the holdout states and their 37 governors, the political pressure to adopt ObamaCare will be crippling,” he wrote. “I fear that most governors will fold.”