Former CBO Chief: Congress Never Meant to Limit Obamacare Subsidies

Former CBO Chief: Congress Never Meant to Limit Obamacare Subsidies

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By Rob Garver

A Supreme Court ruling expected this summer will determine whether the federal government can subsidize the insurance costs of individuals in states that did not establish their own health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

Douglas Elmendorf was the director of the Congressional Budget Office when Congress debated the bill, and on Tuesday he provided some ammunition to backers of the law who insist that that Congress did not intend to prevent payments of subsidies to consumers in states using the federal exchange.

Related: How Obamacare Could Be Squeezing Consumer Spending​​

In an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s 2015 Fiscal Summit*, Elmendorf said that before the ACA passed, the CBO analyzed the bill for members of Congress, many of whom were powerfully opposed to it. At the time, he said, there was a common understanding on Capitol Hill that the subsidies would be available to states regardless of the status of their exchanges.

“That analysis was subject to a lot of very intense scrutiny and a lot of questions,” he said. “My colleagues and I can remember no occasion on which anybody asked why we were expecting subsidies to be paid in all states regardless of whether they established exchanges or not. And if people had not had this common understanding…then I’m sure we would have had a lot of questions about that.”

Pressed by Harwood, Elmendorf added, “My colleagues and I talked to a lot of people, with a lot of questions about nearly every aspect of the analysis that we did…and we could not remember anybody asking us any questions about what would happen in the federal exchange different from what would happen in the state exchanges.”

Even so, the language of the law states that the subsidies would apply to exchanges “established by the State” and the Supreme Court will decide how literally those words must be interpreted.

*Pete Peterson also funds The Fiscal Times.

Tweet of the Day: The Black Hole of Big Pharma

A growing number of patients are being denied access to newer oral chemotherapy drugs for cancer pills with annual price tags of more than $75,000.
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Billionaire John D. Arnold, a former energy trader and hedge fund manager turned philanthropist with a focus on health care, says Big Pharma appears to have a powerful hold on members of Congress.

Arnold pointed out that PhRMA, the main pharmaceutical industry lobbying group, had revenues of $459 million in 2018, and that total lobbying on behalf of the sector probably came to about $1 billion last year. “I guess $1 bil each year is an intractable force in our political system,” he concluded.

Warren’s Taxes Could Add Up to More Than 100%

iStockphoto/ James Group Studios, Inc.
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin says Elizabeth Warren’s proposed taxes could claim more than 100% of income for some wealthy investors. Here’s an example Rubin discussed Friday:

“Consider a billionaire with a $1,000 investment who earns a 6% return, or $60, received as a capital gain, dividend or interest. If all of Ms. Warren’s taxes are implemented, he could owe 58.2% of that, or $35 in federal tax. Plus, his entire investment would incur a 6% wealth tax, i.e., at least $60. The result: taxes as high as $95 on income of $60 for a combined tax rate of 158%.”

In Rubin’s back-of-the-envelope analysis, an investor worth $2 billion would need to achieve a return of more than 10% in order to see any net gain after taxes. Rubin notes that actual tax bills would likely vary considerably depending on things like location, rates of return, and as-yet-undefined policy details. But tax rates exceeding 100% would not be unusual, especially for billionaires.

Biden Proposes $1.3 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in Pittsburgh
Aaron Josefczyk
By Yuval Rosenberg

Joe Biden on Thursday put out a $1.3 trillion infrastructure proposal. The 10-year “Plan to Invest in Middle Class Competitiveness” calls for investments to revitalize the nation’s roads, highways and bridges, speed the adoption of electric vehicles, launch a “second great railroad revolution” and make U.S. airports the best in the world.

“The infrastructure plan Joe Biden released Thursday morning is heavy on high-speed rail, transit, biking and other items that Barack Obama championed during his presidency — along with a complete lack of specifics on how he plans to pay for it all,” Politico’s Tanya Snyder wrote. Biden’s campaign site says that every cent of the $1.3 trillion would be paid for by reversing the 2017 corporate tax cuts, closing tax loopholes, cracking down on tax evasion and ending fossil-fuel subsidies.

Read more about Biden’s plan at Politico.

Number of the Day: 18 Million

Win McNamee/Getty Images
By The Fiscal Times Staff

There were 18 million military veterans in the United States in 2018, according to the Census Bureau. That figure includes 485,000 World War II vets, 1.3 million who served in the Korean War, 6.4 million from the Vietnam War era, 3.8 million from the first Gulf War and another 3.8 million since 9/11. We join with the rest of the country today in thanking them for their service.