A Non Veto Threat ?

In about one month, the US Supreme Court will announce a decision on King Vs Burwell in which the plaintiffs argue that subsidies may not be paid to people who purchased health insurance on exchanges operated by the US Federal Government. The risk that they will win terrifies, among others, Senator Ronald Johnson (R-Wisconsin) who is up for re-electoin in 2016. He proposes a special law — the re-elect Ronald Johnson act — to autorize the payment of subsidies in 2015 and 2016. To convince his fellow Republicans (and to be evil) he proposes eliminating the mandate that people buy insurance. This is clearly veto bait the aim of which is to Cause Barack Obama to veto the bill and be blamed by 8 million people for their resulting loss of subsidies.

I think that Obama’s optimal response is to, informally, contact health insurance executives (and their lobby AHIP) and tell them that he just might sign the bill. People don’t use the phrase “11 dimensional chess master” much any more (I wonder why) but it was originally introduced to refer to his 2008 proposal to reform health care without introducing a mandate. This would have destroyed the US Health Insurance industry. I’m sure his aim was to win the nomination and the election, but, once he won, it looked like accidental genius. The insurance lobby which had managed to block the Clinton attempted reform promised to support Obamacare if and only if there was a mandate.

I think it would make sense for Obama to tell them that he isn’t going to sacrifice his party to save them from Republicans, so they better handle it themselves.

I think that the informal deniable message might include the provision that if he is convinced that they did everything they could to terrify Republicans who might vote to eliminate the mandate, he might consider vetoing the bill. Even with intermediaries who can be repudiated, winks and nudges, it would not be wise to suggest that huge donations to the DNC, DSCC and DCCC would be part of the bare minimum required (that statement would be a crime).

Would it be a bluff ? Maybe. Did he already steal a huge pot with exactly that bluff ? Certainly.