The fate of Obamacare hinges on a Supreme Court decision rather than the give-and-take of the past, when such legislation was fought out on Capitol Hill rather than through the nation's highest court.
Legislative work that once helped iron out complicated, controversial bills has fallen by the wayside because of partisan fighting, reports The New York Times
It wasn't always like that, said Ron Haskins, who advised Florida Republican Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. back in 1997, when President Bill Clinton and the Republican-led Congress were hammering out the Welfare Reform Technical Corrections Act.
Shaw consulted with Clinton's aides about clarifying the complicated law, and it eventually passed following fierce fighting that saw Clinton veto two bills before signing a third.
"We worked with the administration even though we shut down the government — twice," said Haskins, who was Shaw’s top welfare adviser. Eventually, the corrections for the bill were included with a budget measure and became law, The Times reports.
But such work is no longer routine, and now it's up to the Supreme Court
to decide on a part of the law that allows taxpayer subsidies used to help purchase insurance policies in marketplaces established by the states.
The phrase, the plaintiffs argue, should keep people who live in states whose exchanges are established by the federal government from getting the subsidies. The Obama administration argues that the phrase was unfortunate, and such a prohibition was never intended.
A corrections bill would fix the provision, said Haskins, but his fellow Republicans will not "lift a finger" to fix Obamacare, as they prefer repealing it instead.
"In the old days, like when I ran Medicare, when we had this kind of conflict in what appeared to be the intent versus the actual wording, we would go in and ask Congress for a rifle shot to clarify in the statute what needed to be said," Gail Wilensky, a Republican healthcare expert who served under President George H.W. Bush, told The Times.
California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman said that the lack of negotiations is making it "very difficult to legislate on any subject."
"In my experience there’s never been a controversial major piece of legislation that didn’t get followed by a technical change," said Waxman, who is retiring.
"On this one, it’s become such a part of the ideology of the Republican Party. They never wanted to change the law. They just want to stop it."
Wilensky said she hopes that the court may prompt Congress to act. If the court tells lawmakers to resolve the issue, Republicans may agree to make the changes on the subsidy language in exchange for dropping employer mandates for healthcare, she said.
Brookings Institute policy analyst Henry Aaron, who served under Clinton, though, said such negotiations are no longer common in Washington.
In the past, he told The Times, "people of good will on both sides got together, they didn’t always agree, they worked out their differences and they dealt with problems. That is all too regrettably now missing from the scene here."
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