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Democratic leaders: Supreme Court fight is about ObamaCare

Democratic leaders: Supreme Court fight is about ObamaCare
© Bonnie Cash

House Democratic leaders on Tuesday hurled charges that President TrumpDonald John TrumpPolice say man dangling off Trump Tower Chicago demanding to speak with Trump Fauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Biden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus MORE and Senate Republicans are racing to seat a ninth Supreme Court justice for a virtually singular purpose: to repeal ObamaCare.

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on Nov. 10 on a lawsuit contending that a central part of former President Obama's 2010 health care expansion was unconstitutional and that therefore the law, officially called the Affordable Care Act, should be scrapped in its entirety.

Trump and Senate GOP leaders are scrambling to nominate and approve a conservative jurist ahead of those arguments to fill the vacancy created by Friday's death of long-time Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgFauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Biden owes us an answer on court-packing MORE, a liberal stalwart. Trump has said he wants the seat filled before the Nov. 3 elections.

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The move would shift the ideological split on the high court from 5-4 to 6-3, in favor of conservatives, lending a new advantage to the GOP-led states that have lodged the ObamaCare challenge, legal experts say. 

Democrats maintain it's that particular case that's driving the GOP's urgency.

"Before the country has even had an opportunity to appropriately mourn Justice Ginsburg and send her off, they're already trying to jam a right-wing conservative judge down the throats of the American people as part of a scheme to take away the health care of millions of Americans," Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesA tearful lesson of 2016: Polls don't matter if people don't vote Overnight Health Care: House Democrats slam pharma CEOs for price hikes driven by revenue, executive bonuses | Ex-FDA employees express worries to Congress over politicization of vaccines | Fauci said his mask stance was 'taken out of context' by Trump Top House Democrat: Parties 'much closer' to a COVID deal 'than we've ever been' MORE (D-N.Y.), head of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters in the Capitol.

"That's what they want to do. We know it because they've been trying to do it for 10 years."

Rep. Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkPocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Democratic leaders: Supreme Court fight is about ObamaCare Rep. Robin Kelly enters race for Democratic caucus vice chair MORE (D-Mass.), the vice chair of the Caucus, delivered a similar message.

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"This fight for a Supreme Court justice really is about health care, and the upcoming ACA hearing," she said.

Ginsburg's death has sparked a firestorm of controversy on Capitol Hill, as Senate Republicans race to replace her before the November election. The decision marks a 180-degree reversal from 2016, when Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Schumer labels McConnell's scheduled coronavirus stimulus vote as 'a stunt' Pelosi gives White House 48-hour deadline for coronavirus stimulus deal MORE (R-Ky.), had blocked Obama's pick to fill a similar vacancy during an election year, citing the preeminence of lending voters the power to decide the next president first. 

"Of course — of course — the American people should have a say," McConnell said at the time

McConnell and Senate Republicans contend that this year is unlike 2016 because the same party controls the White House and the Senate.

But the head-snapping reversal by McConnell and Senate Republicans has led to charges — from Democrats and even some Republican critics — that GOP leaders are hypocrites defying their own standards of fairness and democracy in order to ram through a conservative judge before voters have the opportunity to weigh in.

"What matters most to Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell ... is power — not saving lives or jobs; not preventing millions of Americans from spilling into homelessness; not defending our Constitution," Clark said. 

The lawsuit challenging ObamaCare targets the law's individual mandate, which had previously required patients to pay a financial penalty if they failed to buy health insurance. In a previous challenge, the Supreme Court had upheld the legality of the individual mandate, citing Congress's power to levy taxes. The swing vote in that case was Chief Justice John Roberts.

Yet Congress eliminated the financial penalty in 2017, gutting the enforcement mechanism even as the insurance mandate technically remains on the books. The plaintiff states maintain that a penalty of $0 can no longer constitute a tax. And if the individual mandate is unconstitutional, they continue, then so is the whole law. 

Yet in an election year, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis that has killed 200,000 people in the United States alone, there is risk for the Republicans supporting the lawsuit — including Trump.

Experts have estimated that repealing ObamaCare would eliminate health coverage for more than 20 million people, while suddenly empowering insurance companies to charge higher premiums for those with pre-existing conditions — something prohibited under the Affordable Care Act.

Those dynamics have not been overlooked by Democrats, who are hoping the threat to the law will bring voters to their side at the polls in November.

"They don't have an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. They're in court right now trying to declare it unconstitutional and they want to put a justice on the Supreme Court who will strip away the protections that millions of Americans — over 100 million Americans with preexisting conditions — currently have under law," Jeffries said, noting that those who have contracted COVID-19 would fit that category. 

The reason, Jeffries added, is "in part because the president's response has been an unmitigated disaster."