Is Texas learning to love ObamaCare?

Is Texas learning to love ObamaCare?
© Hill Photo Illustration/Garrett Evans

The Supreme Court is due to hear yet another case this year on the future of ObamaCare, but looks like the coronavirus pandemic has caused the Texas elected officials behind the case to no longer want anything to do with it. 

And who can blame them? It is one thing to oppose a health care law you don’t like, but it is another thing entirely to strike down a health care system during a health care crisis.

Let’s remember the setting here. The Supreme Court kicked off March by announcing their decision to hear the ObamaCare case, called Texas v. California, later this year, perhaps as early as October during the height of the presidential race. The case turns on “severability,” meaning whether the entire law should be struck down now that one part of it is no longer operational.

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This was meant to be an epic political battle, featuring two heavyweight powerhouses, California and Texas, each represented by their aggressive attorneys General.

In California, the Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump official violated ethics rules in seeking EPA job for relative, watchdog finds| Trump administration aims to buy uranium for reserve 'as soon as possible,' official says| 18 states fight conservative think tank effort to freeze fue 18 states fight conservative think tank effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards OVERNIGHT ENERGY: States, green groups sue Trump over rollback of Obama fuel efficiency regulations | Oil lobby says low prices still hurting industry | Conservative group wants Trump to go further in rolling back key environmental law MORE has enthusiastically defended ObamaCare and with good reason: the state has embraced many provisions of ObamaCare. Becerra’s legal and policy strategy in support of ObamaCare works just as well as a political strategy. Becerra’s predecessor as Attorney General, Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisStates respond with force amid another night of protests Protesters knock down White House security barricades as tensions mount over Floyd's death The Memo: Trump ratchets up Twitter turmoil MORE, fought hard to defend ObamaCare, and voters rewarded her with a seat in the U.S. Senate. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton just as enthusiastically embraced his role as the ObamaCare antagonist. Maybe his policy was not as logical as California’s, given that Texas has also enacted ObamaCare, and millions of Texans have come to rely upon it. But Paxton’s strategy was quite logical politically. Paxton’s predecessor as Texas AG, Greg Abbott, led the fight against ObamaCare, and voters rewarded him by electing him, governor. 

Then coronavirus happened.

Last Monday was the 10th anniversary of the law, and it gave politicians across the spectrum a chance to weigh in. President TrumpDonald John TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points MORE called for the Court to kill ObamaCare, and AG Becerra just as quickly called for the court to save it.

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It was time for Paxton’s star turn — his crusade was reaching the gates of Jerusalem. What did Paxton do? He attacked Planned Parenthood over abortion. He attacked big-city mayors over gun rights and he attacked price-gougers taking advantage of consumers.

AG Paxton went silent, however, on the issue of ObamaCare. Instead, other proponents in the case responded by sending out a tame press release criticizing Biden. The attorney general of Louisiana was quoted saying, “Joe BidenJoe BidenDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points Biden: 'We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us' MORE is attempting to play politics right in the middle of a pandemic,” and the Attorney General of Georgia was quoted saying, “It’s shameful that the former VP of the United States would play crass politics during a national crisis.”

Consider what this means: Paxton is now asking the Supreme Court to strike down ObamaCare — when he himself is apparently unwilling to engage the public directly and denounce the program. And who can blame him for running? The national Coronavirus crisis has changed everything about government and health care in just a month. Look at the policy work the Supreme Court is now being asked to do in Texas v. California:

  • Allow insurers to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions — like Covid19

  • Strip millions of Americans of health insurance — during an epidemic

  • Throw Medicaid further into crisis — when it is already in crisis

  • Strike down a law that is popular among the public and relied upon by the states.

So, Texas is asking a lot in this case. And — one more bitter irony — they are asking if it based on a legal theory that has been widely ridiculed. Vox pointed out that, “The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board labeled this lawsuit the “Texas ObamaCare Blunder.” Yuval Levin, a prominent conservative policy wonk, wrote in National Review that the Texas lawsuit “doesn’t even merit being called silly. It’s ridiculous.”

The Supreme Court kicked off the month of March by agreeing to Texas AG Ken Paxton’s request that they rule on the legality of ObamaCare. We are leaving March with our nation caught up in a health care crisis — and with Paxton no longer willing or able to continue his crusade against ObamaCare. Call California vs. Texas the epic political battle that wasn’t. 

Shum Preston is a political consultant, former senior advisor to Attorney General Kamala Harris, and the founder of @TheAgeOfAGs, which tracks the policies and politics of the state attorney general.