James Dean was never this crazy

Law-writin’ guy Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker, on the President’s latest future failure: “Obama’s Game of Chicken with the Supreme Court.”

Sometime next month, the Supreme Court will decide King v. Burwell, and the conventional wisdom about the stakes in the case appears to have shifted.

By the title you’d think the African Usurper and the Catholic Diocese Of East Virginia were careening at each other in a couple of ’55 Bel Airs. But no, the Republican effort to strip millions of their health insurance isn’t so safe, or fair, a game. Toobin breezes by the destitute cancer patients and insulin-starved diabetics and goes right to the problem: The conventional wisdom is wrong, and everybody will blame Obama for everything.

…that’s the theory: millions will suddenly be uninsured, and will blame Republicans. As Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, put it recently, “I don’t think they will [win the case]. If they do, that’s a problem that the Republicans have.”

No, it’s not. If the Obama Administration loses in the Supreme Court, the political pain will fall almost exclusively on the President and his Party. To paraphrase Colin Powell and the Pottery Barn rule, President Obama will have broken health care, so he owns it. …if millions lose insurance, they will hold it against Obamacare, and against Obama.

Yes that’s all un-well and good, and utterly typical. People are selfish and petty, we know. But where does this game of “chicken” come in? In what way is the President playing life-or-death with the Supreme Court?

Better than anyone, Administration officials know the scale of the problems that would be created by a loss in the Supreme Court. Advertising this possibility makes sense as a litigation strategy; Obama officials don’t want to make it easy for the Supreme Court to rule against them.

Advertising this possibility might make sense as a “reality” strategy, too. Untimely and ultimately life-threatening reversals can bring on anxiety, and stress – even beyond the law or blogging in the New Yorker! Perhaps some of us should be prepared. But let’s ignore the trivial and play along with Jeffrey, shall we? So…?

In testimony before Congress and elsewhere, Sylvia Burwell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (and the defendant in the case), said that the Administration has no contingency plan for an adverse ruling in the Supreme Court. But playing chicken with the Justices only works if it works. If the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies, the Administration will also have to answer for why it didn’t prepare for this possibility.

Obama is playing with fire. Instead of conjuring up a second Affordability Care Act, he’s daring the Supreme Court to strike down the first one. The goodwill (and…ease) with which he passed the original law begs for another, but for some reason he’s just not up to the task. Tsk, tsk. Someone could die playing a game like this.

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