Government and Legislative “Intentions”

Halbig v Sebelius is a case that opened last Tuesday in the DC District Court that challenges the legality of Obamacare subsidies, and through that the applicability of the Employer and Individual Mandates, in states that have ObamaMart—Federal health insurance exchanges—rather than state-run exchanges.

The case hinges on what the Obamacare law says vs what Government says it says and what Congress’ “intentions” were.  Leave aside for now then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s remark that it was necessary to pass the law to know what was in it along with the admissions of most Representatives and Senators that they had not even read the 900-page law before they voted on it; following is the argument:

Judge Paul Friedman asked how far, and where, he should go to look for more information about what Congress actually intended with Obamacare.  Plaintiffs—Halbig, et al. (et al. consists of three more private individuals and eight businesses scattered across six states that have ObamaMart running because those states declined to set up state-run exchanges)—said the place to go was the law itself: what does the law say, explicitly, in its text.

Government, on the other hand, says to see the text of the law, but also go further and divine Congress’ intentions when it passed the law.

Which brings me back to Pelosi’s remark and those admissions.  Congress didn’t know what was in the law when it passed it; that information didn’t become available until after it was passed.  Not knowing what was in the law when it was passed plainly means that Congress cannot have known its intentions for the law when it passed the law.  Government’s insistence on divining intentions in this case, then, demands a level of mind reading that’s beyond even the talents of a Federal District Judge.  Or those of appellate or Supreme Court judges, which is where this case will go, no matter Friedman’s ruling.

Yet the question matters a very great deal: are citizens in states that have ObamaMart rather than state-run exchanges eligible for premium subsidies, and from that do the Employer and Individual Mandates apply in those states?  The text of the law says that subsidies are available only for those who buy policies through the state exchanges.  Government argues that those phantom intentions were that the subsidies were to be available for policies purchased through ObamaMart, also.

This matters because subsidies in the 34 states where ObamaMart operates in lieu of state-run exchanges amount to hundreds of billions of dollars of Federal (deficit, debt-building) spending, and those Mandates represent hundreds of billions of dollars (albeit fewer hundreds than those subsidies) of individual and business spending by non-subsidized purchasers of Obamacare policies in order to defray somewhat the costs of those subsidies (and, a separate significance, to pay “insurance” sellers artificially inflated premiums in order to support those sellers’ artificially depressed premiums for subsidized and elderly buyers)

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