Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee walks to a meeting on Capitol Hill in...
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

Collins eyes second letter to AG Barr on fate of health care law

In late March, the Justice Department alerted a federal appeals court to a striking request from the Trump administration: it expects the judiciary to destroy the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. There were subsequent reports that some, including Attorney General Bill Barr, counseled against the move, but the White House was insistent on the matter.

The underlying argument is convoluted and based on the absurd idea that when Congress zeroed out the ACA’s individual mandate, it lit the match that should burn down “Obamacare” altogether. On April 1, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who voted for the bill that gutted the individual mandate, wrote to the attorney general to say he was making a mistake. Politico reported at the time:

Sen. Susan Collins wants Attorney General Bill Barr to reverse the Justice Department’s aggressive move, seeking to obliterate the Affordable Care Act.

In a letter to Barr on Monday, the Maine Republican argues that if the Trump administration wants to change the health care law, it should come to Congress and ask. Otherwise, Barr’s department should be defending the law from a lawsuit seeking to cripple it, she says.

“Rather than seeking to have the courts invalidate the ACA, the proper route for the administration to pursue would be to propose changes to the ACA or to once again seek its repeal. The administration should not attempt to use the courts to bypass Congress,” Collins wrote to Barr, whom she supported in his confirmation vote in February.

If the attorney general agreed with the Maine Republican’s concerns, he didn’t show it. In fact, Barr’s department appears to have ignored Collins’ advice altogether: it filed a brief with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals this week, making the case for the judiciary taking coverage from millions of families.

It was against this backdrop that Collins told a Bloomberg News reporter yesterday that she’s prepared to … write another letter to Barr.

In all fairness, I have no idea what this second letter, which will apparently be co-signed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), is going to say. It’s entirely possible that Collins will throw caution to the wind, author a furious screed, and make a series of substantive threats that will both get the attorney general’s attention and give him pause.

But at some point, concerned senators may need to do a little more than write concerned letters.

Collins, who’s up for re-election next year, is in an awkward spot. The Republican senator voted against the Affordable Care Act; she voted for the tax legislation that’s imperiled the ACA; she voted to confirm Bill Barr as attorney general; and though we don’t yet know how the case will play out in the courts, it’s entirely possible she also voted to confirm some of the federal judges who may yet side the with the Trump administration against the health care law.

Perhaps it’s time to explore options that don’t involve asking the attorney general to be more responsible?