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The Stakes for Today's Supreme Court Argument Are Sky-High

It could produce a mad political scramble (in DC and state capitals) to pick up the pieces for Americans who'll have to pay higher health care costs.
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It’s been a busy week so far in American politics -- the Netanyahu speech, the end to the DHS fight, the latest in the 2016 race, and even David Petraeus’ guilty plea. But the biggest and most significant political story of the week is playing out today at the Supreme Court, which at 10am ET hears oral arguments in a case to decide whether Americans who live in the 30-plus states that didn’t set up their own health marketplaces should be allowed to receive subsidies under the health care law. What’s at stake: If the Supreme Court ultimately invalidates these subsidies, more than 9 million Americans would lose nearly $30 billion in tax credits and cost-sharing reductions by 2016, according to the Urban Institute; the uninsured ranks would increase by 8.2 million Americans; and the average Obamacare premium will increase by more than 200% (!!!). And if that happens, it’s going to produce a mad political scramble (in Washington and state capitals) to pick up the pieces for Americans who will paying higher health care costs due to the court’s ruling. But if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the government -- that yes, the law was always intended to award subsidies to all Americans, no matter where they live -- it could bring an end to the great Obamacare War. If this doesn’t take down the law, after all, it’s hard to see what else will. That’s why the stakes are so high here – and why both sides have been working the refs (ie the justices) so aggressively.

Why Republicans could be playing defense if the court strikes down the subsidies

If the court strikes down the subsidies, Republicans could find themselves playing defense. According to an NBC/WSJ poll released last night, 54% of Americans say that if the court guts the Obamacare subsidies, Congress should pass a law helping lower- and middle-income Americans in ALL states to regain their financial assistance. By contrast, 35% say that Congress shouldn’t pass a law here. Of course, this largely cuts across partisan lines, with 81% of Democrats but just 26% of Republicans wanting Congress to help those on the federal marketplace. But here is where the politics are tricky for Republicans: 60% of women, 52% of independents, and even 50% of whites say Congress should pass a law helping Americans regain their financial assistance. Those are significantly stronger poll numbers than what you usually see when it comes to Obamacare. And it’s clear that some Republicans are nervous about this case. We’ve seen GOP leaders-- whether it’s Orrin Hatch in the Senate or Paul Ryan in House -- propose to help if the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies. Here’s the rub, however: They don’t contain specific details or legislative language.

Considering the long-term impact of a Supreme Court nix of subsidies

One last point on the Supreme Court’s arguments today: It’s worth asking what kind of precedent the court would be setting if it rules that the law doesn’t actually allow the federal subsidies. The health care law’s backers insist that the legislation always intended for the federal government to provide the aid if states didn’t set up health care exchanges, and they insist that the plaintiffs are trying to exploit what amounts to a typo in the law. In a future world where, let’s say, a GOP president and Congress pass a tax or entitlement reform bill, would Democrats feel then empowered to challenge some piece of the law based on a similar argument and try to push the Supreme Court to invalidate the legislation entirely?

DHS fight began with a bang, and it ended with a whimper

After last week’s eleventh-hour showdown and an embarrassing failed vote for House leaders, the furious fight over the Department of Homeland Security came to a relatively quiet end Tuesday, with a vote on the “clean” year-long funding bill carried mostly by Democrats. One reason for the very muted reaction: GOP leaders managed to execute what we call a Friday Night News Dump – on a Tuesday. The timing of the vote – coming on the same day as a highly-anticipated speech from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the day before this super-high-stakes Supreme Court argument – meant that there was simply little left of the news hole for conservative complaints about Boehner’s “cave” on the immigration fight. By the way, last week’s meltdown underscores that, even if Republicans are talking about an Obamacare fix, does anyone really think that a GOP House could pass *anything* having to do with health care without Democratic help?

Netanyahu: How will it play in Israel?

The first, second and third audiences for Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday might have been voters in his own country. The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg makes this observation: Netanyahu “will be returned to power on March 17 if he can convince a large enough number of Likud-oriented voters to stick with his party … Right-wing voters in Israel aren't upset by Netanyahu's thumb-in-the-eye approach to President Obama. Many of them actually like it, and they will like to see that Netanyahu is more-or-less correct when he argues that Congress has Israel's back.” There’s certainly the suggestion in some Israeli media that Netanyahu was much more interested in his domestic political concerns than in his diplomatic goals. How is it going to play at home for him?

Email problems create a big distraction for Hillary Clinton…

Team Clinton appears set to be turning on the lights of a formal campaign in a matter of weeks, and they’re already in the position of playing major defense when it comes to this email story. The latest development: The AP reports that Clinton ran her own computer system for her emails. It’s a big distraction that threatens to stick around for a long time if Clinton doesn’t address this fast. Republican members of Congress are sure to push for hearings, subpoenas – any way to keep forcing this controversy back into the headlines again and again. The question is: What can the Clinton team do to get ahead of it? Are they designing a web site right now that’s all about disclosing the emails? What’s the next step?

“Words do hurt.”

In the wake of the suicide of Missouri gubernatorial candidate Tom Schweich, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth – not only perhaps the most respected Missouri politician but one of the most venerated former U.S. senators -- didn’t hold back in linking the death to bullying and the worst impulses in politics in Missouri, and perhaps, by extension, in our country as a whole. “The death of Tom Schweich is the natural consequence of what politics has become,” Danforth said while delivering Schweich’s eulogy. “I believe deep in my heart that it’s now our duty, yours and mine, to turn politics into something much better than its now so miserable state.” Decrying what he called an anti-Semitic whisper campaign against Schweich, he said politicians should disown the idea of “winning at any cost.” “Words do hurt. Words can kill,” he added. We’re just starting what’s going to be a messy, hotly contested and no-doubt-nasty-at-times presidential election. Some messiness is all part of the process, of course, but Danforth’s warnings about the ugliest tactics in politics are worth keeping in mind for all of us. Perhaps before you write that next nasty tweet, that next attack email, or that new oppo research hit, re-read Danforth’s eulogy.

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