Law Prof: Dueling ACA Rulings More About Federal Agencies' Power

Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 10:28 PM

By Greg Richter

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George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley says the conflicting rulings on Obamacare subsidies handed down Tuesday are less about healthcare than about the role of federal agencies.

"The Fourth Circuit basically said that they would defer to the IRS," Turley said Tuesday on Fox News Channel's "The Kelly File."

A three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Circuit Court ruled 2-1 that the subsidies paid by the federal government to enrollees at HealthCare.gov violate the Affordable Care Act because the strict wording of the law says that subsidies are to be paid to people who sign up through state exchanges. Thirty-six states opted not to create exchanges, forcing the federal government to create its own exchange for residents of those states.

Hours after the D.C. ruling, the Fourth Circuit court in Virginia ruled the other way in a separate case. That ruling, which was unanimous, said the wording of the law was ambiguous and therefore open to interpretation.

Turley told Fox News he agreed with the D.C. ruling.

"I don't see the ambiguity," he said. "In fact, I find it rather odd that a line that says the tax credits are linked directly to states with state exchanges is viewed as somehow ambiguous."

The reinterpretation came about after those 36 states unexpectedly opted out of the system. The IRS, which is tasked by the law with ensuring compliance, ruled that even people under the federal exchange could receive subsidies.

"These decisions really are not about healthcare; they're about how powerful federal agencies have become," Turley said.

Though he is in agreement with President Barack Obama on most issues, Turley has been a sharp critic of what he has called Obama's overreach of executive power. Turley has testified before Congress that a "constitutional crisis" is at hand if the executive branch is not reined in.

He said the Obamacare reinterpretation is another example of executive overreach.

Turley said that if the Supreme Court upholds the D.C. ruling, he doesn't see how the ACA can continue to exist unless Congress makes major changes in the law. With a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, that isn't likely.

GOP critics have fought the law on various fronts since it was narrowly passed in 2010. Turley said any unclear parts of it should be fixed.

"This is one of the largest federal programs ever attempted," he said. "It should not go forward with questions of legitimacy."

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