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Republicans Go for Obamacare’s Jugular Amid Spiraling Coronavirus Pandemic

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (C) walks to a news conference outside the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill on June 9, 2016 in Washington, D.C.

As the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads to an unknown degree, Republican attorneys general are moving forward with efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

Former vice president and freshly embattled Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden recently forced the issue in an open letter addressed to various red state top cops, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R), and President Donald Trump.

Urging the GOP to drop their ongoing litigation against the majority-approved health care law, Biden cited the national struggle against the fast-spreading contagion as a key reason to abandon their efforts. The letter explicitly tied the crisis to that courtroom battle:

At a time of national emergency, which is laying bare the existing vulnerabilities in our public health infrastructure, it is unconscionable that you are continuing to pursue a lawsuit designed to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance and protections under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the ban on insurers denying coverage or raising premiums due to pre-existing conditions.

Republicans issued their own harsh assessments of that letter.

“It’s shameful that the former VP of the United States would play crass politics during a national crisis,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said in a statement provided to Yahoo Finance on Friday. “Republican AGs will continue to uphold the constitution, fight to protect those with pre-existing conditions and ensure better healthcare outcomes for the American people.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry also took aim at the Democratic Party frontrunner: “Joe Biden is attempting to play politics right in the middle of a pandemic. His letter to President Trump on the legal issues surrounding the Affordable Care Act is not only in poor taste but also uniformed. A federal court has already ruled that the ACA is unconstitutional. It is critical the Supreme Court finish its review.”

The litigation in question–stylized as Texas v. Azar in the lower courts and as California v. Texas in consolidated Supreme Court parlance–hinges upon the argument, first advanced by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, that since the deeply unpopular individual mandate provision of Obamacare was stripped of its enforcement mechanism via the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, that penalty is no longer a tax.

And, lower courts have held, without a tax that “produces at least some revenue” for the government, the mandate is unconstitutional. If the mandate itself is unconstitutional, Paxton and 17 other GOP attorneys general argue, the entire bill must be struck down–including popular provisions unrelated to the mandate–because the mandate is an integral aspect of the overarching legislation.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with Obamacare’s opponents in a controversial decision issued late last year on the grounds–noted above–that the mandate “can no longer be read as a tax, and there is no other constitutional provision that justifies this exercise of congressional power.”

The ball is now in the Supreme Court’s hands and Obamacare advocates aren’t particularly optimistic about the law’s chances before a conservative majority that includes Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Paxton dismissed Biden’s letter as a nakedly political act.

“It’s unfortunate that a former Vice President would choose to play petty politics during a global crisis,” Paxton told Yahoo Finance on Friday morning. “Nevertheless, the facts are that Obamacare resulted in higher costs, fewer choices and a power imbalance between the people and their government. Even the mandate at its core was declared unconstitutional by a federal district court and affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.”

[image via Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images]

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