Former CBO Chief: Congress Never Meant to Limit Obamacare Subsidies

Former CBO Chief: Congress Never Meant to Limit Obamacare Subsidies

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By Rob Garver

A Supreme Court ruling expected this summer will determine whether the federal government can subsidize the insurance costs of individuals in states that did not establish their own health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

Douglas Elmendorf was the director of the Congressional Budget Office when Congress debated the bill, and on Tuesday he provided some ammunition to backers of the law who insist that that Congress did not intend to prevent payments of subsidies to consumers in states using the federal exchange.

Related: How Obamacare Could Be Squeezing Consumer Spending​​

In an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s 2015 Fiscal Summit*, Elmendorf said that before the ACA passed, the CBO analyzed the bill for members of Congress, many of whom were powerfully opposed to it. At the time, he said, there was a common understanding on Capitol Hill that the subsidies would be available to states regardless of the status of their exchanges.

“That analysis was subject to a lot of very intense scrutiny and a lot of questions,” he said. “My colleagues and I can remember no occasion on which anybody asked why we were expecting subsidies to be paid in all states regardless of whether they established exchanges or not. And if people had not had this common understanding…then I’m sure we would have had a lot of questions about that.”

Pressed by Harwood, Elmendorf added, “My colleagues and I talked to a lot of people, with a lot of questions about nearly every aspect of the analysis that we did…and we could not remember anybody asking us any questions about what would happen in the federal exchange different from what would happen in the state exchanges.”

Even so, the language of the law states that the subsidies would apply to exchanges “established by the State” and the Supreme Court will decide how literally those words must be interpreted.

*Pete Peterson also funds The Fiscal Times.

Chart of the Day: Long Way to Go on Coronavirus Testing

Healthcare workers with ChristianaCare test people with symptoms of the coronavirus in a drive-thru in the parking lot of Chase
Jennifer Corbett
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The White House on Friday unveiled plans for a new effort to ramp up testing for Covid-19, which experts say is an essential part of limiting the spread of the virus. This chart from Vox gives a sense of just how far the U.S. has to go to catch up to other countries that are dealing with the pandemic, including South Korea, the leading virus screener with 3,692 tests per million people. The U.S., by comparison, has done about 23 tests per million people as of March 12.

After Spending $2 Billion, Air Force Bails Out on Planned Upgrades of B-2 Bombers

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flies over the Missouri Sky after taking off from the Whiteman Air For..
© Hyungwon Kang / Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The Air Force has scrapped a planned upgrade of its B-2 stealth bomber fleet — even after spending $2 billion on the effort — because defense contractor Northrup Grumman didn’t have the necessary software expertise to complete the project on time and on budget, Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio reports, citing the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer.

Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters that the nearly $2 billion that had already been spent on the program wasn’t wasted because “we are still going to get upgraded electronic displays.”

Big Hurdle for Sanders’ Plan to Cancel Student Debt

Chip East / REUTERS
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Bernie Sanders wants to eliminate $1.6 trillion in student debt, to be paid for by a tax on financial transactions, but doing so won’t be easy, says Josh Mitchell of The Wall Street Journal.  

The main problem for Sanders is that most Americans don’t support the plan, with 57% of respondents in a poll last fall saying they oppose the idea of canceling all student debt. And the politics are particularly thorny for Sanders as he prepares for a likely general election run, Mitchell says: “Among the strongest opponents are groups Democrats hope to peel away from President Trump: Rust Belt voters, independents, whites, men and voters in rural areas.”

Number of the Day: $7 Million

NY mayor cites climate stance in endorsing Obama
By The Fiscal Times Staff

That’s how much Michael Bloomberg is spending per day in his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, according to new monthly filings with the Federal Election Commission. “In January alone, Bloomberg dropped more than $220 million on his free-spending presidential campaign,” The Hill says. “That breaks down to about $7.1 million a day, $300,000 an hour or $5,000 per minute.”