White House struggles to understand the ACA case it supports

If the White House is going to fight to take health care benefits from millions of families, it should at least try to get the details right.
Image: Kayleigh McEnany
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House on May 1, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

Last week, Donald Trump and his team asked the Supreme Court to tear down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, despite the ongoing pandemic. If the president succeeds in getting what he wants, his own country's health care system would be left in shambles, and tens of millions of families would lose benefits they've come to rely on.

It was against this backdrop that White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany appeared on Fox News yesterday morning, and one of the co-hosts asked about the potential political fallout of destroying the existing system without having a replacement ready. The president's chief spokesperson made the case that it's actually Democrats who'll have a political problem.

"Look, the American public looks at this and what they say is this: If Democrats passed an unconstitutional law several years ago, then it's on Democrats to come forward with a solution."

McEnany went on to argue that the Affordable Care Act represents a "government takeover of health care" (that's not true), that the White House has "put forward solutions" (that's not true), and that Democrats are moving toward "eliminating Medicare" (that's not true).

There was, in other words, quite a bit wrong with the press secretary's pitch. But let's focus on two key elements.

First, to hear McEnany tell it, if Supreme Court conservatives agree to destroy the existing health care system, it will be because Democrats "passed an unconstitutional law several years ago." She's confused: the pending ACA case is not a test of the original law's constitutionality. That case has already come and gone.

Rather, the current case relates to the Republicans' 2017 tax plan and the GOP's apparent belief that it altered the ACA in such a way as to render it unconstitutional. It's the sort of detail the White House really ought to know while it tries to take health care coverage from millions of families.

Second, it's almost amusing to hear McEnany insist that it's "on Democrats to come forward with a solution." In other words, if Republicans make a mess, the White House expects Democrats to clean it up.

In reality, however, it's Democrats who've already "come forward with a solution" -- it's the ACA, and it's working -- which they continue to take steps to improve. Meanwhile, it's Republicans who've spent more than a decade promising to craft an alternative to "Obamacare" that does more and costs less.

At least so far, McEnany's party has failed to keep that promise.