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No, ‘Obamacare’ is (still) not dead

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  July 23, 2014 at 9:12 AM EST
Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Split decisions on health care law
  • ‘Obamacare’ remains trip wire for Democrats
  • David Perdue surprises with win in Georgia Senate GOP runoff
  • Senate Democrats prep immigration proposal

Split decisions: If the health care law could talk, it might (mis)quote Mark Twain’s “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” A pair of circuit courts issued differing opinions Tuesday in parallel cases on whether tax credits under the Affordable Care Act for people who sign up under federal exchanges law are legal. A three-member D.C. Circuit Court panel delivered what looked like a blow to the health care law, finding the subsidies were illegal because of the way the law is written — that only those who sign up in a state exchange are eligible. The Richmond, Va.-based Fourth Circuit came to a different conclusion — that the law’s intention was clearly to give people who qualified subsidies even if the law wasn’t written as neatly as it could have been. The administration plans to appeal the D.C. Circuit panel’s ruling to the broader court, where it will likely be overturned. That court now has a majority of Democratic-appointed justices, 7-to-4, for the first time since the 1980s. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must be smirking and thinking, “You’re welcome.” After all, three of those judges were appointed since Reid’s so-called nuclear option allowed President Obama’s previously blocked judges to pass by simple majority. Two more courts — in Oklahoma and Indiana — also have subsidy cases pending before them. More so than any other challenge to the law, this one presents the “the single greatest threat to the reach of the statute, to the attempt to help a lot of people be able to afford health care through insurance,” Tom Goldstein, founder of SCOTUSBlog.com, told NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill Tuesday. The bottom line here is that this looks like another thorny health care decision that will rest with the Supreme Court in the next year or two.

Health care continues to be a trip wire: One more point on the health care rulings is that Tuesday should be a warning to the White House and Democrats of just what a trip wire the issue of health care continues to be — and not to underestimate the potential potency of conservative legal arguments. Not only that, but Tuesday also showed just how quick many in the media are and will be to jump on perceived bad health care law news. The two hours between the first and second ruling saw a spate of death-knell headlines. Without that second ruling, it would have been a full day of bad P.R. for the White House. And the first health care case wasn’t the only bad news about health care Tuesday. A sting conducted by the Government Accountability Office found that 11 out of 12 fake applications for government subsidized healthcare got through the verification process. By the way, one side note about the DC Circuit: if the court takes up the government’s appeal, the panel would likely be made up of 13, not 11, members, according to the DC Circuit Court clerk’s office. There are currently 11 “active” judges and six senior status/semi-retired judges. Two of those senior judges were part of the three-member panel that decided Tuesday’s case. Because of that, they have the option to sit on the appeal if the court decides to take it up. But they likely won’t change the ideological make up — one was a Carter appointee, who dissented in Tuesday’s opinion, one an H.W. Bush appointee, who voted to strike down the subsidies.

Perdue edges Kingston in Georgia runoff: We noted yesterday that primary polling can be inexact and Tuesday was another example of that with businessman David Perdue narrowly defeating Rep. Jack Kingston 51 percent to 49 percent in the Georgia Senate GOP runoff Tuesday. That sets up a general election contest against Democrat Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn. Perdue, the former Dollar General and Reebok chief executive and cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, spent $3 million of his own money to win the nomination. Kingston, an 11-term House member, had been the choice of the GOP establishment, receiving $2.3 million in support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and endorsements from current and former lawmakers. Still, Republicans will gladly take Perdue over some of the other candidates who lost in the May 20 primary, particularly Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey.

Setting the table: Georgia is one of two Republican-held seats that Democrats are targeting this fall, with the other being Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is seeking re-election. Polls showed Nunn running competitively against both Perdue and Kington ahead of Tuesday’s runoff. The race is expected to be one of the most closely-watched of the cycle, with Republicans needing to net six seats to win majority control of the Senate. The drawn-out process on the Republican side benefitted Nunn, who has mostly escaped attacks so far this year. That’s about to change. Expect Democrats to dust off the playbook they used against Mitt Romney in 2012 and go after Perdue’s business record. The executive director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Guy Cecil, released a statement Tuesday that charged Perdue’s career involved “tearing apart companies and communities by slashing thousands of jobs in Georgia and across the country … while walking away with millions for himself.” By contrast, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Sen. Jerry Moran, said Perdue’s “firsthand experience in creating thousands of good paying jobs will help Georgians.” For Perdue, the key question going forward is whether he can define his background before Democrats do. For Nunn, it’s whether she can handle the pressure of a general election now that all the focus and money from Republicans will be squarely on her. This race ends one part of the election season. Get ready for the August primary sprint when 15 states will vote.

seats-gained2

How much does presidential approval matter in midterms?: We wrote Tuesday about some of the key questions that could determine Senate control. One area, in particular, we thought we’d examine more deeply — presidential approval and its affect on midterms. Overall, midterms are not kind to presidents and their parties. And when a president’s approval rating is below 50 percent, like President Obama’s is now, the president’s party loses an average of about three more seats in the Senate than if his approval were above 50 percent. Overall, since World War II, the president’s party has lost an average of 3.7 Senate seats in midterm elections. When the president’s approval is above 50 percent, the average loss is 2.6 seats. But when the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent, his party has seen an average loss of 5.5 seats in midterms — ironic, considering Republicans need to gain a net of six seats this year to win control of the Senate. The wildcard here, though, is the continued unpopularity of the Republican brand. The party’s favorability hovers in the 30s, slightly worse than Democrats and the president.

Democrats prep own immigration bill, but it’s unlikely to have much GOP support: Senate Democrats are readying a bill to deal with the unaccompanied children border crisis that would trim President Obama’s request by $1 billion, but it would not change the 2008 child-trafficking law. That’s a major sticking point with Republicans. “These agencies are going to run out of money in mid-August,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid argued Tuesday. Democrats would like to see a vote next week, but Reid’s counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “throwing money at the problem is not going to fix it.” John McCain, R-Ariz., as usual was more blunt. “If it doesn’t have the 2008 repeal in it, I don’t support it,” he said per Politico.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1885, former President Ulysses S. Grant died. What was Grant’s real name? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Helen Belencan (‏@HBPelican) and Michael Hinkle ‏(@HinkleMe) for guessing Tuesday’s trivia: Who served as Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, who made the troop recommendation for Vietnam? The answer was: Robert McNamara.

LINE ITEMS

  • At 3:00 p.m. ET, President Obama will attend a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraising lunch event in San Francisco with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and DCCC Chairman Steve Israel. The president will then travel to Los Angeles to speak at a Democratic National Committee fundraising event hosted by actress Kerry Washington at 7:55 p.m. ET.

  • Katrina moment? Not exactly. A new CNN/ORC poll finds Mr. Obama’s approval rating at 42 percent is largely unchanged from his March 43 percent number.

  • Among the 12 states that will decide who controls the Senate, Mr. Obama has a 60 percent disapproval rating, according to a new poll from Democratic pollster Democracy Corps.

  • Foreign policy followed the president Tuesday on his fundraising trip in Seattle, where he encountered pro-Palestinian protesters outside the home of one of his bundlers.

  • Reuters reports that two Ukrainian military jets were shot down in Eastern Ukraine Wednesday morning.

  • The New York Times’ Peter Baker looks at Mr. Obama’s simultaneous handling of the downed plane in Ukraine, the war in Syria, violence in Iraq and Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza.

  • Mr. Obama signed legislation Tuesday that gives money to states and cities for job-training programs.

  • Following the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate, the White House is working on a new birth control insurance rule to deal with religious objections to certain contraceptives.

  • Members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee used Tuesday’s confirmation hearing for Mr. Obama’s nominee to head the VA, Robert McDonald, to debate about whether the VA needs more money to fix its problems.

  • Almost immediately after establishing a state ethics commission with much fanfare, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office began interfering with their investigations, halting any that would have reflected poorly on the governor.

  • On Thursday, Rep. Paul Ryan will announce his anti-poverty plan, called an “Opportunity Grant,” that will consolidate federal safety net programs, excluding Medicaid, into a single grant offered to states. Federal expenditures, however, would remain the same.

  • House Republicans said Tuesday evening that based on information from an IRS analyst, they believe former agency head Lois Lerner’s emails could have been recovered. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday.

  • Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s lead over current Gov. Rick Scott has narrowed — it’s now 45 percent to 40 percent — in a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday. But when the Libertarian candidate is added to the matchup, the contest between Crist and Scott becomes too close to call.

  • Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants Sen. Ted Cruz’s proposal to do away with the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program to be put up for a vote in the Senate, but he won’t say if he supports it.

  • Republicans aren’t supposed to talk about it, but that hasn’t stopped them from wondering: Who would succeed McConnell as majority leader should he lose in November? His top deputy, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, is favored, but his ascension isn’t a foregone conclusion.

  • The House GOP is making a push to catch up to Democrats on their use of digital technology to connect with each other and their constituents.

  • Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is out with a new TV ad attacking Mitch McConnell for saying it’s not his job to create local jobs.

  • Freedom Partners, an outside group affiliated with the Koch brothers, has made a $2.8 million buy in North Carolina’s Senate race to boost Republican Thom Tillis.

  • Arizona Rep. Ron Barber released his first TV ad this campaign cycle, in which his wife narrates Barber’s life story.

  • Speaking on public radio affiliate KPCC, Hillary Clinton responded to comments Florida Sen. Marco Rubio made on Tuesday’s “Morning Edition” that she was a “20th century candidate,” saying “every election is about the future” and joking that she should send a copy of her book to her “Republican friend.”

  • In November, Oregonians will have the chance to vote for their next senator, representative, governor and now the legalization of marijuana.

  • In Ohio, working-class whites account for less than half of the state’s eligible voters for the first time.

  • The fastest growing group of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are children 12 and under, according to the Pew Research Center.

  • A Tennessee man has been arrested for threatening to kill Mr. Obama, Mitt Romney, and Rep. Paul Ryan, among others.

  • The Supreme Court is allowing Arizona to execute a death row inmate amid a First Amendment case about where the state gets its lethal injection drugs.

  • Sarah Palin reportedly got a $154 speeding ticket for driving 63 mph in a 45 mph zone in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, last Wednesday.

  • Let former President George H.W. Bush help you pick out your socks.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., rocks an LG flip phone — one of ten he bought to make sure he’d never run out.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

TOP TWEETS

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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