President Obama on Monday defended the constitutionality of a key provision of his health care law, insisting Congress had intended for insurance subsidies to be available for all plans purchased under the law. The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on whether subsidies are only available for health plans purchased through exchanges set up by states, rather than the marketplace run by the federal government in states that refused to set up their own exchanges.
“What I can tell state leaders is that under well-established precedent, there is no reason why the existing exchanges should be overturned through a court case,” Obama said, adding that the case shouldn’t have even been taken up by the courts.
Obama, meeting with world leaders in Germany at the G7 summit, also took questions on international diplomacy. He addressed topics including negotiations with Iran, keeping pressure on Russia over its aggression in Ukraine and a possible accord on reducing global carbon emissions.
On domestic issues, the president appeared to be vulnerable on twin elements of his legacy – immigration and health care.
Obama’s executive actions to shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation have been held up in court. Late last month, a federal appeals court rejected the Obama administration’s request to free up the executive actions.
“Obviously I’m frustrated,” he conceded, adding that his administration will “continue to work on all fronts to fix a broken immigration system. Administratively we’ll be prepared when and if we get the kind of ruling I think we should’ve gotten in the first place.”
Obama pressed anew for Congress to pass legislation to reform the immigration system. The Senate in 2013 passed a bipartisan reform bill, but it died in the House. Republican congressional leaders have shown no willingness to consider any new legislation since then.
On health care, Obama offered no substantial guidance for states that rely on the federal health care exchanges set up through Obamacare as the Supreme Court decision looms. The case before the nation’s highest court hinges on just four words in the 2,000-page bill: “established by the state.” Critics of the law argue that the subsidies available to some Americans to help pay for insurance are only available on exchanges set up by states. Just 13 states and the District of Columbia operate their own exchanges.
“I’m optimistic the Supreme Court will play it straight,” Obama said, adding that Congress could “fix this thing with a one-sentence provision.”
Obama also addressed the vulnerabilities of antiquated U.S. government computer systems in the wake of a massive data breach that targeted the records of millions of employees of the federal government.
“State and non-state actors are throwing everything they’ve got to try to breach these systems,” Obama said, adding that hackers are looking to obtain intelligence, sabotage and steal information from government systems. The federal government is going “agency by agency” to discover vulnerabilities, Obama added.
World leaders gathered at the summit focused on the ongoing effort to contain the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a militant group that has terrorized the Middle East in its quest to establish a religious state in the region.
The international coalition fighting ISIS, led by the U.S., has made “some progress, but not enough” to combat the terror group, Obama said. The president also expressed frustration over Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s efforts to combat the terror group.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has echoed that view, recently criticizing Iraq’s “will to fight” ISIS.
Obama said the international community needs to ramp up its training of Iraqi forces, something the U.S. has been doing for the dozen years it has been entangled in conflict in Iraq.