Why some conservatives don't like the ruling against ObamaCare

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Conservatives who have long despised ObamaCare might be expected to rejoice now that a federal judge in Texas has ruled the law unconstitutional.

But few of them are popping champagne corks, at least in the media.

"No one opposes ObamaCare more than we do," says The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, but the ruling "is likely to be overturned on appeal and may boomerang politically on Republicans."

ObamaCare was a "misbegotten law," says National Review. "Yet we cannot applaud Judge Reed O'Connor's decision. Indeed, we deplore it. It will not lead to the replacement of Obamacare, as much as we desire that outcome. It will instead give Republicans another opportunity to dodge their responsibility to advance legislation toward that end ... it is very likely to be overturned on appeal because it deserves to be."

ObamaCare was flawed legislation, to say the least, that drove up premiums for some people and, despite the former president's promises, caused others to lose their doctors and their plans.

But there's a reason that a Republican Congress, with President Trump's backing, failed in three attempts to repeal and replace the law. Much of the GOP didn't want to take the political heat for causing millions of Americans to lose their health insurance.

The law has become more popular now that its namesake is out of office, and especially the provision that bars insurance companies from rejecting people with preexisting conditions. Many Republicans spent the campaign vowing to preserve that part of the law (even some who had voted to abolish ObamaCare or moved to weaken it at the state level).

Not everyone on the right agrees. The Federalist says the judge's ruling is overdue because "the blunt reality that Obamacare was always at heart a bad-faith proposition. The basic operation of the law, never stated or acknowledged by its authors, was to force younger, healthier people to subsidize health insurance for older, sicker people. It was a redistribution scheme, plain and simple."

By the way, it's no coincidence that the decision came from O'Connor, a controversial and conservative Bush appointee who frequently ruled against the Obama administration. Nor is it happenstance that the states that filed the suit did so in Texas, where the courts are more conservative — the flip side of Trump complaining about lawsuits in the liberal 9th District in San Francisco.

When the John Roberts court upheld the law in 2012, it said Congress couldn't force people to buy insurance through the individual mandate, but that was okay because it could tax people for not buying coverage.

Last year, as part of tax reform, Congress set the penalty tax at zero, effectively eliminating the mandate. O'Connor ruled that the whole law must be tossed out because it's based on a tax-slash-mandate that no longer exists.

It's doubtful that the Supreme Court will buy this argument, but the political impact, in the short term, is clear. Democrats see a boost in their effort to pass some version of Medicare for All, although the ruling should freeze things and the GOP Senate won't go along in any event. Republicans have to navigate a path between rhetorical opposition to ObamaCare and not taking steps that would cause a health care crisis and blow up the preexisting conditions ban.

Trump, while tweeting that the law is an "UNCONSTITUTIONAL DISASTER," was quick to add: "Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch and Nancy, get it done!"

But getting it done would have been easier when Nancy was minority leader. Ultimately, a divided Congress, not the courts, must figure out a way out of this mess.