Now Trump Wants Judges To Throw Out The Entire Affordable Care Act

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Previously the administration said it would be fine to leave some of the law in place.

The Trump administration on Monday adopted a more extreme position on a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act: Instead of asking the federal courts to throw out just one part of the law, as it had done previously, now the administration wants the courts to throw out the entire thing.

Protections for people with pre-existing conditions, tax credits for lower- and middle-class insurance buyers, expanded state Medicaid programs for the poor ― all of these things would be gone, and millions of people would lose health insurance if the administration gets its way.

And the effects would not stop there. The health care law includes all kinds of other, lesser-known provisions, touching everything from the way Medicare pays hospitals to the calorie counts on food menus.

“The notion that you could gut the entire ACA and not wreak havoc on the lives of millions of people is insane,” Nicholas Bagley, a University of Michigan law professor and expert on the health care law, wrote in a quick reaction article at “The Incidental Economist” website. “The Act is now part of the plumbing of the health-care system.”

It was less than two months ago that President Donald Trump, during the State of the Union address, declared that one of his priorities was “to protect patients with pre-existing conditions.” It was a vow he has made repeatedly, going back to the 2016 campaign ― and yet it is one he has also broken repeatedly.

Trump spent most of 2017 trying to pass legislation that would repeal Obamacare, as the ACA is known. When that failed, his administration focused on using its regulatory authority to undermine the law.

And in the summer of 2018, the administration decided to back this latest lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. That was a highly unusual move, because by tradition the executive branch defends federal statutes in court — even those the president might oppose.

To be clear, the lawsuit still has a long ways to go before prevailing. 

Although it got a favorable ruling from a federal district judge in Texas, it is currently before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. If it gets past the 5th Circuit, it would almost certainly go before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already turned away two major challenges to the 2010 health care law. And those cases were widely viewed as more serious than this one.

Texas v. Azar, as this latest lawsuit is known, comes from Republican officials representing 20 states. It asserts that, by eliminating the financial penalty for people without insurance as part of the 2017 tax cut, Congress removed the health care law’s constitutional underpinning.

Because Congress originally intended for the law’s interlocking pieces to work together, and because judges must respect the will of Congress, the entire statute should come off the books ― or so the lawsuit claims.

A loud, bipartisan chorus of legal experts has said this argument is absurd. Congress may have once thought the penalty was an essential part of the law, these experts note, but by 2017 Congress had obviously changed its mind, as it has the right to do.

The notion that you could gut the entire ACA and not wreak havoc on the lives of millions of people is insane.Nicholas Bagley, University of Michigan law school

“Congress told us what it wanted through its 2017 legislative actions. ... It repealed the penalty while leaving the insurance reforms in place,” five legal scholars, two of whom had led previous legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act, wrote in an official brief when the case first went before a U.S. district judge in Texas.

With so many experts criticizing the argument, and quite a few mocking it, the chances for success would appear to be slim. Still, the 5th Circuit is full of conservative Republican appointees ― and, at this point, nobody is willing to dismiss the threat of this lawsuit out of hand.

That is why the Justice Department created such a stir last June when it made the unusual decision not to defend the law in court.

Even then, however, the Justice Department broke with the plaintiffs by asking the courts to invalidate only one portion of the law ― specifically, the new regulations on private insurance and pre-existing conditions. A major purpose of the financial penalty for people without insurance — a provision also known as the individual mandate ― had been to make those regulations function more effectively.

Until now, the administration’s legal position was to let the rest of the Affordable Care Act stand.

On Monday, the Justice Department filed a note with the court saying that it now intends to side with the plaintiffs fully because it agrees with the district judge. In other words, the administration now believes the entire law should go.

“It’s a complete bombshell,” Abbe Gluck, professor of law at Yale, told HuffPost after learning of the filing on Monday evening. “The administration went from taking the position that only some of the insurance reforms should be struck down to now saying the entire ACA ― Medicaid expansion and all ― should go down with this ship. …  It’s a total 180, with drastic human consequences.”



Republicans Say The Size Of Your Refund Doesn’t Matter

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And Sen. Chuck Grassley said refunds are a “stupid” way of judging the GOP tax law.

Several million households may be getting a surprise tax bill this filing season because of the new GOP tax law, but Republicans insist nobody should be mad.

The law’s authors argue that people should not evaluate the new tax code based on the size of their refunds because refunds happen when workers have too much money withheld from their paychecks ― not necessarily because their taxes went up.

“Why don’t you write a story saying, ‘You’re stupid to look at your refund to see whether or not you got a tax increase or a decrease,’” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told HuffPost this week. “You can’t measure by the refund.”

Grassley has half a point. The vast majority of U.S. households got their taxes reduced last year because of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Most people pay their federal taxes by having a portion of their wages withheld from each paycheck, so the new law’s lower tax rates should have resulted in slightly more take-home pay for most workers.

But the new law probably did mess up refunds for several million households. Republicans rushed to write and pass a sweeping tax overhaul at the end of 2017, leaving the IRS little time to revamp the formula that employers and employees are supposed to use to figure out how much should be withheld from their wages.

“Passing a tax law the last week of December and expecting the tax system to adjust in a week is just unreasonable,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the independent Tax Policy Center.

The IRS said last year that it expected that the share of people who have too much withheld (and therefore get a refund) to decline from 76 to 73 percent and that the percentage who have too little withheld (and therefore owe the IRS) would increase correspondingly. The agency said that, according to payroll processors, it would have taken half a year to come up with a better withholding system.

Democrats said congressional Republicans and the Trump administration encouraged insufficient withholding in order

to boost people’s paychecks ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

“I think it’s one of those I-told-you-so moments,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said.

Many Americans are accustomed to getting a tax refund in the first part of the year, and the way they plan to spend the money suggests they truly count on it, Gleckman said. A survey last year found that 44 percent of Americans polled said they would pay down debt if they got a refund from the new tax law. The average federal refund is about $3,000. 

“For low-income people, if you’re unbanked ... this is really the only way you’ve got to save money,” Gleckman said.

At the same time, most Americans are not experts on the mechanism for adjusting their withholding: the W-4 form they fill out and give to their employers. Only 19 percent of Americans polled said they updated their W-4 last year after the law changed, according to a December H&R Block survey.

Republicans have been annoyed by news stories about surprise tax bills. Like Grassley, Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), a member of the House tax subcommittee, suggested journalists should do a better job of informing the public. He said that people who are now missing refunds should be glad that they had not effectively lent money to the government.

“Why don’t they know that?” he said. “Do they know they functionally have been being scammed by government withholding?”

But Republicans for the past year have not exactly been jumping up and down yelling about the scourge of overwithholding. Instead, they’ve been touting the big tax cut they gave the American people. The IRS, for its part, did try to warn people to check their withholding with a new calculator on

The most recent data from the IRS shows that refunds for this filing season are up 1.3 percent compared with the previous year. Multiple-child households that don’t itemize their expenses are the likeliest to get bigger refunds from the new tax code. Filers in wealthier households that previously deducted expenses such as mortgage interest and local tax payments are likelier to be stuck with a bill, partly because those deductions have been curtailed and their tax burden is just higher. So even though a person’s effective tax rate and the amount they withhold are two separate things, they do overlap.

It’s human nature to be shocked by a huge bill after having failed to notice relatively small tax changes in a paycheck, Gleckman said. And it’s also human nature not want to fuss with numbers on an arcane government document.

“Human beings are not going to spend any time going on the IRS website figuring out what they’re withholding is going to be,” he said.




Average tax refunds down 8.4 percent as angry taxpayers vent on Twitter

Average tax refunds were down last week 8.4 percent for the first week of the tax season over the same time last year, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Dipping refunds are inflaming a growing army of taxpayers stunned by the consequences of the Trump administration’s tax law — and the effects of the partial government shutdown.

The average refund check paid out so far has been $1,865, down from $2,035 at the same point in 2018, according to IRS data. Low-income taxpayers often file early to pocket the money as soon as possible. Many taxpayers count on the refunds to make important payments, or spend the money on things like home repairs, a vacation or a car.

The IRS had estimated it would issue about 2.3 percent fewer refunds this year as a result of the changes in the federal tax law, according to Bloomberg. MSNBC reports that 30 million Americans will owe the IRS money this year — 3 million more than before Trump’s tax law.

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“There are going to be a lot of unhappy people over the next month,” Edward Karl of the American Institute of CPAs told Politico. “Taxpayers want a large refund.” Some 71 percent of taxpayers received refunds last year worth about $3,000 on average, according to Karl.

Scads of taxpayers are complaining on Twitter that they have always received a refund — but now owe the IRS instead.

The number of refunds sent out by the IRS was also down — about 24 percent — as the agency struggled to get up to speed after the government shutdown. The agency sent out about 4.67 million tax refunds in the week ending Feb. 1, compared with about 6.17 million in the same period in 2018, according to IRS data.

This year’s filing season, which began two days after the shutdown ended on Jan. 25, is complicated because it’s the first after the 2017 tax law was enacted. Though President Donald Trump boasted that the new code would be so simplified that people could file their taxes on a postcard, that’s not the case. 

In addition, the changes complicated payroll withholding, so that not enough money was withheld by employers in many cases, meaning that people now owe more taxes. The new law also capped IRS deductions for paid state and local taxes, including real estate taxes, resulting in a nasty surprise for many filers. Several other deductions are no longer allowed.

The frustrations will likely continue to fuel support for plans to boost taxes on the ultra-wealthy. A poll last month found that nearly 60 percent of registered voters support a plan by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to impose a 70 percent marginal tax rate on the portion of annual income that exceeds $10 million a year.

Twitter is filling up with complaints from people whose situation has changed radically.

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