New nullification twist in the war on Obamacare: MO edition

My very own Missouri State Senator, Republican John Lamping, has introduced a bill into the 2014 Missouri legislature that would, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “take away insurance companies’ licenses if they accept subsidies offered by the federal government to help pay health insurance premiums for low-and middle-income people.”

This effort represents the worst of contemporary Republican tactics. They couldn’t beat the Affordable Care Act in Congress, or in the Supreme Court, so they’re doing the next best thing—taking it to the states, and attempting to nullify federal law. Even Lamping acknowledges that nullification is his intent. He’s in open cahoots with “Tenthers,” right-wing radicals who assert that the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives states primacy over federal laws. According to the Post-Dispatch:

A states’ rights group called the Tenth Amendment Center supports Lamping’s bill, calling it a step toward nullifying Obamacare on a state level…

Lamping has said that the Tenth Amendment group ‘has sorta latched onto this. They think it’s a vehicle for the issues that are important to them, the idea of nullification.”

Missouri is no stranger to Tenthers and nullification. Most recently, in 2013, Republicans in the state legislature came within two votes of passing a bill that would have nullified federal gun laws. Under the bill,

any federal policies that “infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms” [would have been]  invalid in Missouri. It would have created state misdemeanor charges against federal authorities who attempted to enforce those laws or anyone who published the identity of a gun owner. Another provision could have allowed police and prosecutors to be targeted with lawsuits for attempting to enforce the nullified laws.

Of course, it’s highly doubtful that Lamping dreamed up his insurance-license revocation scheme on his own. He—or whoever is circulating this idea—apparently cribbed it from Michael Cannon, a health policy activist at the right-wing Cato Institute.

Cannon traveled the country, encouraging states not to set up insurance exchanges. He argued that employers would have a solid legal foundation to contest any penalties in states with federally run exchanges. His argument is based on a very narrow interpretation of the federal law that allows the federal government to give out health insurance premium subsides “only” if the insurance exchange is run by the state.

The word “only” is highly suspect and may be tested in a lawsuit in federal district court. Defenders of the wording of the Affordable Care Act say that the law anticipated that states would set up their own insurance exchanges [a construct Republicans had insisted upon]. It was only when Republicans decided that anything “Obama”—even a law that they had conceived of themselves—had to be opposed, that opting out of state exchanges became a way of undermining the law. All that would have to happen to fix the ambiguous wording would be a small, legislative fix. But fixing and improving—something that has always, until now, been part of the implementation of big social programs– is not part of the Republican plan.

[UPDATE, Jan. 15, 2014: A federal judge rejected the lawsuit challenging subsidies for Obamacare via federally run exchanges. ]

Lamping’s radical bill could be a bluff—a bill that he knows will go nowhere but that will demonstrate his right-wing bona fides in his upcoming re-election bid. It certainly puts him in an awkward position with potential donors from the insurance industry. But whether he’s serious or not, his bill demonstrates that he—like too many other Republican legislators—is less interested in helping make a decent idea work for their constituents, and more interested in blindly undermining anything “Obama.” This is the sad state of “lawmaking” in Missouri and in the U.S.

Watch out for similar Obamacare nullification measures in a state legislature near you.