What Obama Can Do if SCOTUS Cripples Obamacare

Repeal ObamacareIf the Supreme Court tears apart Obamacare this summer, the president won’t be able to put it back together all by himself.

Executive action is all the rage in the White House these days, and it’s hard to imagine a better candidate for unilateralism than fixing the Affordable Care Act in the wake of a crippling Supreme Court decision. That scenario would check every box: Republican intransigence; a top priority for Obama; and severe disruption in real people’s lives.

There’s just one problem: A good administrative solution might not exist.

“There are no administrative fixes that are realistic,” said Neera Tanden, president of the liberal Center for American Progress. “We don’t believe there’s any administrative fix.”

The high court is expected to rule this summer in a lawsuit over Obamacare’s insurance subsidies, which more than 80 percent of enrollees are receiving. The challengers argue that the Affordable Care Act authorizes subsidies only in states that set up their own insurance exchanges, not in the 36 states that punted the task to the federal government.

A ruling in the challengers’ favor would devastate Obamacare—millions of people could lose their coverage—and could wreak havoc on the non-Obamacare insurance markets in those 36 states. The repercussions would be severe enough to demand a fix. But a fix would be hard to come by.

The goal for the White House would be to simply and cleanly restore the law’s subsidies, nationwide. But Congress wouldn’t be willing to do that, and the White House wouldn’t be able to on its own, health care and legal experts said.

“If the government loses this case, there will be considerable pain, and theres no easy, clean, quick fix,” said Nichols Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan who has written extensively about the case.

Without a fix in Congress or a good administrative option, the only solution would be to convince the states to set up their own exchanges. That would involve convincing Republican governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures, all of whom have already refused to set up their own exchanges once, to cooperate.

“Given the political composition of most of the states that are not operating their exchanges, that’s going to be a problem,” said Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington & Lee University and an Obamacare supporter. “There’s nothing the administration can do to change that dynamic.”

What the administration could do, though, is make it easier for states to take control of their own exchanges. That’s the biggest policy lever the White House would have, experts said, but it comes with serious limitations.

The case before the Supreme Court centers around a section of Obamacare that described the subsidies flowing through “an exchange established by the state.” So, if the Court invalidates subsides in federally run exchanges, the best chance to restore those subsidies would be to transfer those exchanges to their respective states.

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“The administration won’t just be able to wave a magic wand and make the problem go away. States will still have to do something to establish an exchange … it’s just not clear what that will be,” Bagley said.

The logistics of that switch wouldn’t be easy, but they’re not the hardest part. Several health policy experts said the Health and Human Services Department could probably figure out a way to keep running most of the exchanges’ technical systems, most likely as a contractor.

“States are going to have to establish exchanges, whatever that means. But whatever it means, it probably means the state would have to take some kind of affirmative action,” Jost said.

The Affordable Care Act sets certain rules for what an exchange has to do—such as certifying that insurance plans meet the law’s standards, operating a program to help people navigate their coverage options, and covering its own administrative costs. But it doesn’t specifically define what constitutes an exchange “established by the state.” Most of the details were left to HHS.

So, if HHS does end up needing to transfer federally run exchanges to the states, it could probably hang on to some of the work. But it would be difficult to argue that an exchange is state-run unless the state has taken some action to authorize the marketplace.

“I hope that there are solutions. I expect that HHS is giving that some thought. But in the end, HHS can’t create state-operated exchanges.” Jost said.

Because HHS had considerable flexibility in certifying state exchanges, it might be able to soften some of its standards to make it easier for states to take control of their marketplaces after a Supreme Court decision. It could ignore or loosen the requirement that states give six months’ notice before taking over their exchanges, for example, and make it easy for states to contract with the federal government to run complicated computer systems.

But those steps would only go so far.

“I just don’t know how far they could go with that,” Jost said.

A handful of state legislatures have passed laws prohibiting their governors from setting up exchanges through executive orders, so they’re unlikely to take any sort of affirmative steps, however loosely defined, toward setting up their own marketplaces. Several more state legislatures aren’t scheduled to be in session by the time their residents would start losing coverage.

And setting up a new system for regulating insurance plans isn’t free. States that initially set up their own marketplaces were eligible for unlimited planning and establishment grants from the federal government, to help them get off the ground. But that funding has expired; states would now have to spend their own money.

Furthermore, the looser the standards HHS adopts, the more likely they are to draw another legal challenge.

“It could just become a never-ending series of lawsuits,” Jost said.

Hundreds of Anti-Obamacare Bills Filed in Legislatures

repealDecisions whether to repeal or repair Obamacare may be at a standstill on the federal level, but state governments nationwide are considering hundreds of bills that attack the law on several fronts, a review by the Center for Public Integrity finds.

Nationally, more than 700 bills related to Obamacare were filed in state legislatures either in 2014 or carried over from 2013, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and in five states, California, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, and Washington, 50 or more bills were filed in each state.

“The number of bills is remarkable,” said NCSL health legislation expert Richard Cauchi, noting that it’s not yet clear how many of those bills will come out again this year. But he and other experts do not expect the trend to change.

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“There are definitely strong opposing opinions on the topic of the Affordable Care Act,” said Cauchi.

Oklahoma State Republican Rep. Mike Ritze, who is a family doctor, has backed three anti-Obamacare bills that are supported by conservatives in his state and others, but none have become law.

“We need to do everything we can to try and reverse this,” Ritze commented, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s report. “We can make it harder to enforce if the states get together to attack it on all fronts.”

Ritze, who says he has delivered more than 2,000 babies over 40 years of practice, calls Obamacare “socialized medicine” that will ration healthcare.

Nationally, the bills vary from trying to nullify the law or hinder enforcing it, while others are being pushed by tea party activists or early Obamacare foes, the center’s review found.

But there are also scores of bills that seek to add to Obamacare as well, the review found, including expansions for Medicare, such as were passed in Ohio, drawing ire from conservatives against Republican Gov. John Kasich, who pushed for the measure.

Overall, the NCSL data shows, more than 75 Obamacare-related bills became law in 2014 on the state level, with about 50 of them moving Obamacare forward rather than restricting it.

But like on the national level, Republicans have made gains in state legislatures in the midterms, now controlling 69 of the states’ 99 chambers, according to the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee.

One of the groups fighting Obamacare, the American Legislative Council (ALEC), says it is working to advance limited government, and favors instead a “Health Care Freedom Act” to suspend business licenses of insurers that accept money or subsidies from the Affordable Care Act, a measure that has failed in Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio.

Further, ALEC has pushed for bills in five states saying that no law should compel people or employers to participate in a national healthcare system; pushed for Medicaid expansion bans; and taken other measures, most of which have failed.

Spokeswoman Molly Fuhs said the group’s board is looking for even more ways to deal with Obamacare.

Michael Boldin, founder of the 10th Amendment Center, commented that many people believe there is no way to stop a federal law, but calls that idea “absolutely absurd.”

Obamacare adversaries are coming from all directions, said Boldin, including 10 bills in five states that outlaw the insurance exchanges’ advertising, which he says would “pull the rug out from under it.”

This article first appeared in Newsmax.

Obamacare website sends your data to private companies

Death by a 1000 taxesNEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Healthcare.gov, the federal website where you sign up for Obamacare, is quietly sharing your personal information with private companies.

The evidence is in the computer code on the website itself. It shows that Healthcare.gov is relaying certain information, such as your zip code, income level, pregnancy status and whether or not you smoke.

That information is being shared with several third parties. DoubleClick is a Google (GOOG) subsidiary that serves up advertisements and tracks your movements online. Healthcare.gov also shares your data with Google, Twitter (TWTR, Tech30), Yahoo (YHOO, Tech30), YouTube and others.

Then there’s Chartbeat and Optimizely, which track what you click while you’re on Healthcare.gov. These are popular services that help improve a website’s design (CNNMoney uses them).

The Associated Press was the first to report these details on Tuesday.
When CNNMoney learned that the Health and Human Services Department was sending information to third parties in 2013, HHS would only assure that the data being shared with DoubleClick and others is transmitted to them securely.

“When consumers fill out their online Marketplace applications, they can trust that the information they’re providing is protected by stringent security standards and that the technology underlying the application process has been tested and is secure,” HHS said.
But this doesn’t explain why these companies see your data in the first place.
Federal health officials did not provide additional comment to CNNMoney on Wednesday morning.

It’s worth noting that the Obamacare website shares this information with private companies even if you enable the “Do Not Track” feature in your Web browser, according to researchers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. That means the government is choosing to ignore Internet users’ requests for privacy.

“People’s private medical data should not be available to third party companies without consent from the user,” EFF staff technologist Cooper Quintin argued in a blog post. “This practice is negligent at best.”

Obamacare’s Onerous Menu Labeling Regulation

    • Pizza OvenIt’s been a month since the Food and Drug Administration announced its final rule for menu labeling, a regulation that’s already proving to be a nightmare for the major chain restaurants and retail food establishments that must comply by Dec. 1, 2015, or face a stiff penalty.

      “It got much worse in the final rule,” Lynn Liddle, chairperson of the American Pizza Community and executive VP of communications and investor relations for Domino’s Pizza, told Townhall. “I was surprised, disappointed, and befuddled because there’s all this new stuff in there where I go, ‘I don’t know how we’re gonna do this.’ … We’re gonna need a lot more time to untangle this mess, which I don’t think is viable or workable.”

      While the regulation is bad for all industries, pizza has been hit particularly hard. For one, it’s a food industry unlike any other—90 percent of customers get their food delivered, making the idea of in-store displays of calorie information unnecessary and costly, not to mention extremely difficult since it’s such a customizable food.

      Liddle said a concession was made on labeling by the slice rather than the whole pizza, but the rule is still disastrous for small businesses across America.

      “[W]hat [FDA] did in these final rules is they expanded their definition of a menu and said ‘we’re gonna look at it and say anything a consumer will think of at that moment as a menu,’ so it’s very squishy right now because nobody really understands this thing because they’re saying if you have a picture or a name of a product, along with a price, were gonna call that a menu, so if you take it to the ridiculous that could include television advertising, because in the restaurant industry you always have a picture of product and a price, that’s how the restaurant industry advertises,” she explained.

      “We went to [the FDA] with a proposed solution; we didn’t say ‘we want to get out of it,’ we said, ‘we have a better way’ … and that better way was primarily doing this electronically, which by the way we already do voluntarily, so it was a really workable solution … and basically they’ve ignored it,” she said.

      While Domino’s is a major pizza chain across the country, the vast majority of stores are franchises, meaning the burden of implementation falls squarely on the backs of small business owners. And failure to have the appropriate signage or serving food that’s outside of the labeled calorie range can carry civil and criminal penalties, Liddle said, but specificity over how it will be policed and what the penalties are remains unclear.

      Meanwhile, studies continue to show that menu labeling has little to no effect on consumers’ purchasing habits. In other words, despite the cost to small business owners across the country, menu labeling will have no significant impact on obesity in America, the purported benefit the FDA used to justify the law as part of the Affordable Care Act to begin with.

      Liddle sees the rule as a way for its proponents to feel like they’ve done something that will be good for Americans. “I’ve seen a number of article and commentary from people … saying we need to tell people what to eat,” she said. “I think there’s this belief that … Americans can’t or won’t ever help themselves.”

      “I don’t think slapping calorie ranges on a pizza menu board that no one looks at is gonna be any kind of a solution [for reducing obesity],” she continued.

      It’s been a long road fighting against the rule since it first came out as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and Liddle says she isn’t done yet.

      “I don’t think I have the luxury to stop fighting against this because it’s hurting my small business franchisees … and it’s hurting the [entire] pizza industry with an additional cost their customers haven’t asked for,” she said.

      “We’re going to keep pushing for solutions we think are most viable, and we’re encouraged because we have nearly 100 members of Congress that have supported our past legislation, so I think we have a lot of people with a lot of common sense on our side.”

      This post by Leah Barkoukis originally appeared in Townhall.

How Hillary could make ObamaCare worse

How Hillary could make ObamaCare worse

AN ABC-Washington Post poll shows 61 percent of Democrats support Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, far more than other contenders. If she wins the White House, health reform could become even more painful than ObamaCare.

Clinton ducks questions about her views on health reform. But the plan she proposed in 1993, as first lady, raises concerns.

That proposal was even more coercive than ObamaCare. She put price controls on doctors and limits on how much health care the nation could consume annually and how much you could buy for your own family — even if you paid for it yourself.

True, that was 20 years ago. But it’s an important window into her thinking.

Before Americans choose candidates for 2016, they ought to ask how much power they want government to have over their health care and whether Clinton stands by the coercive plan she proposed the last time she was in the White House.

Start with whether the government should force us to have insurance. The Obama administration is using ads and street fairs to convince people to get covered. Millions are still saying “no.” ObamaCare penalizes the uninsured but also offers exemptions, including just pleading “hardship.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 90 percent of the uninsured will not be penalized.

Clinton wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. If you failed to enroll or the plan you chose was oversubscribed, government would assign you one (Health Security Act of 1993, pp. 144, 146; the text is available online).

As for people not paying their premiums, Hillary told a House hearing back then that an equivalent amount would “be deducted from their wages or obtained through tax deductions in some other way.”

Under Hillary’s plan, to see a doctor you would have to prove you’re enrolled or get enrolled on the spot. The doctor could only be paid by the plan, not by you.

Government officials would put price controls on what doctors charge, barring them from charging more or accepting payments directly from patients (pp. 236-237). Why would anyone want to pay a doctor directly? Privacy for one thing. Access, for another.

Access would have been a problem. Her plan limited what you would be allowed to pay for insurance. That limits how much money is in the pot to take care of you when you’re sick. It turns insurers into rationers.

Princeton Prof. Paul Starr (Hillary’s Jonathan Gruber) said it would force doctors and hospitals “to manage under constraint.” Under HillaryCare, government could outlaw any plan that cost 20 percent above the average plan.

In contrast, ObamaCare doesn’t outlaw generous plans. Its Cadillac tax, scheduled for 2018, would discourage them, but union opposition makes that tax an uncertainty.

Under ObamaCare, people who can afford it pay concierge doctors extra to get care without waiting. But Clinton’s scheme effectively barred you from going outside the system to get better or faster care.

The biggest difference between ObamaCare and Hillary’s approach is how they rein in the nation’s health spending. ObamaCare tries payment innovations, such as Accountable Care Organizations, with little progress so far.

Federal actuaries predict health spending will increase rapidly, hitting a staggering 19.3 percent of GDP by 2023.

Hillary wouldn’t put up with that.

Her plan used coercion. At the time, she said, “We all must learn to live within a budget.” The government would impose a dollar limit on what the nation could spend.

If spending neared that limit, insurers and government payers would be legally required to cut payments to doctors, nurses and hospitals to avoid going over budget (p. 137). Such central planning — even in the face of unforeseen problems such as the flu or EV-68 — would risk patients’ lives and the livelihoods of doctors and nurses. Is that what Americans want?

Hillary may have discarded some of her radical ideas. And, of course, anything she proposes would have to get through Congress. Nonetheless, voting for Hillary before knowing where she stands on health reform could be dangerous to your health.

Betsy McCaughey is author of “Beating Obamacare 2014.” This post originally appeared in the New York Post.

Top 5 political predictions for 2015

Hillary Clinton speaks on "Smart Power: Security Through Inclusive Leadership"  at Georgetown University in Washington

1. The Obama boom will finally arrive.  Only it will be more like a boomlet.

Americans have been waiting for the boom since they elected President Barack Obama in the teeth of the 2008 financial meltdown. After all, we elected Ronald Reagan during an economic downturn in 1980, and by his second term, the economy had turned around (“Morning in America”).  We elected Bill Clinton in an economic downturn in 1992, and by his second term, the economy had come roaring back (the “dot-com boom,” now known as the “dot-com bubble”).  Now we’re deep into Obama’s second term. Where’s da boom?

It’s finally starting. Not only does it look like the economy is picking up, but we’re beginning to see real wage growth. What’s holding things back is the lack of any fiscal stimulus. Government spending is “sequestered.” This entire recovery has been driven by the Federal Reserve (zero interest rates). The drop in oil prices is also helping. (Not helping the stock market, though. Energy stocks are dragging the market down.)

Democrats will take whatever strong recovery they can get. Maybe it will save the White House for them in 2016.

2. Populism will thrive, left and right, in the United States and in Europe.

We saw it in Thursday night’s House budget vote that averted a government shutdown. Most Democrats defied Obama and voted “no.” Their complaint? Populism. The budget bill eases a tough regulation aimed at curbing risky trading on Wall Street.

Nearly a third of House Republicans also defied their party leaders and voted “no.”  Their complaint? Populism. Tea Party Republicans don’t like the fact that the bill raises contribution limits for wealthy campaign donors. They’re worried that it will give the party establishment — Wall Street, again — too much clout and squelch the Tea Party revolt.

In Europe, anti-establishment populist movements are threatening to shake up the political order: the United Kingdom Independence Party, the National Front in France, the Pegida movement in Germany, Podemos in Spain, the Democrats in Sweden (Sweden!). All feed onpopulist resentment of immigrants and minorities.

Why is this happening? Because European financial elites imposed a misbegotten regime of austerity on their countries, on the fantastic theory that reducing national debt would result in economic recovery. What they got was an endless recession. And a wave of populist anger targeted at outsiders.

3. Obama’s job approval ratings will improve, but only a little.

We’ll probably see the president’s ratings rise from the low 40s, where they are now, to near 50 percent.

His ratings can’t go much higher because the country is so intensely polarized. Obama’s support and opposition are pretty much locked in. He will probably not get to where Clinton was during his impeachment drama (more than 60 percent approval). And he’s unlikely to go as low as President George W. Bush did during the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina (low 30s).

4. Hillary Clinton will run for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

She has to. If she doesn’t run, Democrats will nominate Vice President Joe Biden and he will lose (“a third term for Obama”).

Clinton has her own brand. She was in the public eye long before anyone had ever heard of Obama. She was Obama’s competitor in the 2008 Democratic primaries.  This time, Clinton won’t wait until the end of the campaign to bring up the “glass ceiling.” The prospect of electing the first woman president will be central to her message. And it will create genuine excitement. She’ll reinforce that excitement by naming a Latino as her running mate. Most likely Julian Castro, former mayor of San Antonio and current secretary of housing and urban development.

But she will face a challenge from the left in the Democratic primaries. A lot of progressives suspect her of hawkishness in foreign policy and centrism in domestic policy — too close to Wall Street, the bugaboo of populists. We don’t know who her challenger will be yet — probably not Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the new icon of the left. But somebody will emerge to carry the fight. And lose to Clinton.

Bush addresses the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Annual Conference in Lake Buena Vista

5. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will run for the Republican nomination.

The party establishment is ready to throw buckets of money at Bush. They need him to save the GOP from the dreaded Tea Party, the creepy religious right and the flaky libertarians. Bush will end 2015 as the Republican frontrunner — but only narrowly. The rest of the Republican primary vote will be divided among five or six candidates from the various conservative clans.

Bush will most likely win the nomination because happiness in politics is a divided opposition. That’s how Mitt Romney got the Republican nomination in 2012.  As the Chinese proverb says, “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of  your enemies will float by.”

Bush will be the last Republican standing. All that money will guarantee it. Just as it did for Romney.

Another Bush versus Clinton race in 2016!  No wonder Americans are sick of politics.

PHOTO (TOP): Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks on “Smart Power: Security Through Inclusive Leadership” at Georgetown University in Washington, December 3, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

PHOTO (INSERT): Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addresses the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Annual Conference in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, June 21, 2012. REUTERS/David Manning

This post by Bill Schneider originally appeared in Reuters U.S. edition.

Can rising star Elizabeth Warren rival Hillary Clinton in 2016?

Like Tea Party Republicans on the opposite end of the political spectrum, progressive U.S. Democrats are riding a populist anti-establishment wave, hoping their champion Elizabeth Warren challenges Hillary Rodham Clinton for the White House.

First-term U.S. Senator Warren, a provocative anti-Wall Street crusader, led a revolt last week against must-pass federal spending legislation weighed down with what she and other Democrats described as giveaways to big banks and wealthy political donors.

They bucked President Barack Obama, who backed the bill. They frustrated Democratic leaders, although the measure ultimately passed.

And they insisted their cause was one Americans would be eager to join.

One year before the 2016 presidential race kicks into full swing, this is Warren’s moment.

But the question remained whether the 65-year-old can, or will, translate grassroots support for her positions into a viable presidential run against a woman widely seen as the Democratic frontrunner.

“I’m not running for president,” Warren insisted to NPR in a radio interview Monday.

Pressed on how she routinely uses the present tense when describing her lack of White House ambition, Warren repeated: “I am not running for president. You want me to put an exclamation point at the end?”

A handful of grass-roots Democratic groups are already hoping to prod her into a change of heart.

MoveOn.org announced last week it was launching a pre-campaign Warren-for-president movement. It has 10 full-time employees, and $1 million to spend to recruit staff in New Hampshire and Iowa, the states that vote earliest in the primary contests to decide the parties’ nominees.

Their first official meeting is Wednesday in a Des Moines, Iowa cafe.

These are late and modest beginnings compared to the massive infrastructure already in place around Clinton, who like Warren has yet to declare her intentions.

“We’re going to be building out what could become the undergirding of an actual presidential campaign, should Elizabeth Warren choose to enter the race,” MoveOn spokesman Nick Berning said in an interview.

While the political positions of former Secretary of State Clinton may come across as vague and centrist, Warren wears her calling on her sleeve: defending middle- and working-class families.

She has clashed with Obama and party establishment. And her revolt last week brought the government to the brink of shutdown.

“There are certainly Tea Party elements to that,” a senior Republican Senate aide said.

In 2010, Obama nominated her to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

After her appointment was prevented in the Senate, she successfully ran for a seat in the very body that blocked her.

Last week, in a blistering floor speech, Warren accused Citigroup lobbyists of literally writing the provision passed in the spending bill that repealed regulations on certain derivatives trading blamed for part of the 2008 financial meltdown.

And she listed several Washington positions, including vice chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury secretary, as being Citigroup alumni.

“Citigroup has risen above the others,” she warned. “Its grip over economic policymaking in the executive branch is unprecedented.”

Her pugnacity can make her seem radically anti-business — a Fox News anchor on Tuesday said Wall Street bankers viewed Warren as “the devil.”

But her fiery attitude is gold for the far left, which sees Clinton as too chummy with Wall Street.

Some 300 former Obama campaign staffers and aides recently wrote an open letter urging Warren to run for president.

The political clock is ticking. Obama and Clinton officially launched their campaigns in January 2007 — equivalent to next January for this cycle.

On the Republican side, prominent and popular Jeb Bush made waves Tuesday by announcing he was actively exploring a presidential bid.

Warren does not yet have the national recognition of a Bush or Clinton.

A Quinnipiac poll last month had just 13 percent of Democrats favoring Warren, compared to 57 percent for Clinton.

If the 2008 race is any guide, such figures can be overcome. In December 2006, Obama hovered at 17 percent compared with Hillary’s 39 percent.

Warren supporters shrug off the aura of “inevitability” surrounding Clinton. Their objective is to push the agenda far left ahead of the primaries.

As for Warren’s continued demurring about the presidency, her supporters are not discouraged. In January 2006, one senator unequivocally said he would not seek the White House: Barack Obama.

This post by Michael Mathes originally appeared in The Japan Times.

Tea Party Is a Movement Now, Not Just a Mood

Photo: Newscom

Is the tea party a movement or just a mood?

That was the question posed by Weekly Standard columnist and Fox News contributor Steven Hayes as he kicked off a panel at the Heritage Foundationcelebrating the 5th anniversary of the tea party.

Hayes and his co-panelists, Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham and University of Virginia professor of politics James Ceaser, all agreed that the tea party is in fact a movement. Moods, as Hayes noted, don’t last for five years.

Recent polls regarding national tea party support show the panel’s assessment is correct. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in November found one-fifth of American adults consider themselves supporters of the tea party. As panel moderator David Azerrad of the Heritage Foundation noted, that’s quite an improvement from the original tea party, which numbered between 30 and 130 members.

But the panelists didn’t just rely on poll numbers to support their conclusion. They also highlighted some of the tea party’s major accomplishments since its inception in 2009.

Particularly noteworthy, according to the panelists, is the influence of 2010 tea party candidates such as Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky. The media prefers to focus on failed tea party candidates such as Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, but it has been Lee, Cruz, Rubio and Paul who have injected new life into the GOP and are producing its most innovative policy solutions.

Needham pointed specifically to Lee’s Higher Education Reform and Opportunity, or HERO, Act, Senator Cruz’s proposed energy legislation and Senator Paul’s focus on overcriminalization as prime examples of tea party ideas in action.

Another sign of tea party success has been its ability to set the terms of political debates. In particular, Ceaser credited the tea party with “bringing the national debt onto the front burner,” and reminding Americans that “if you spend today, someone will have to pay [for] it tomorrow.”

Tea partiers such as Cruz frequently have caused a ruckus on Capitol Hill fighting spending bills and opposing debt-ceiling increases. The result has often been legislative gridlock. Many on the left and in the mainstream media regard this as a failure of the tea party, but Hayes observed that “that was, in some ways, the entire point of the tea party.”

The tea party-fueled debt debate has had an even greater impact at the state level. In what Ceaser called the tea party’s “greatest actual achievement,” state governments have taken bold steps to rein in public-sector unions and control pensions. And it’s happening in both Republican and Democratic states, Ceaser noted, as both parties are realizing the problems of excessive debt.

That the tea party has made popular a topic as unexciting as government debt indicates how truly influential it is.

The panel also credited the tea party with bringing the Constitution back into public discourse. Ceaser praised the tea party for restoring the idea of the Constitution as “a guide for the thinking of a political party and program,” which he noted was the role it played in the 19th century. In that era, legislators often engaged in debates about what the Constitution allowed and what it meant.

Unfortunately, our current Democratic and Republican parties largely have ignored the Constitution and, prior to the tea party, rarely debated its meaning. The result was a mistaken perception of the Constitution as nothing more than “a matter of individual rights protected by courts” that political parties and movements simply should not bother with.

The tea party’s return to the Constitution has revitalized public interest in its meaning and forced politicians to engage once more in constitutional debates.

Despite frequent mischaracterizations in the mainstream media, targeting by the IRS, and verbal attacks from President Obama, the tea party remains highly influential in American politics. The left and the media don’t want to admit it, but the tea party is not a passing mood; it’s a movement. And, as Steve Hayes concluded, “It’s not going anywhere anytime soon.”

COMMENTARY BY Heath Hansen

Heath Hansen is a research assistant in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation.

Path to repealing Obamacare unclear

Repeal ObamacareWhen the next Congress takes office in January, with a new Republican majority in the U.S. Senate complementing an expanded Republican majority in the House, the Affordable Care Act figures to show up near the top of the agenda.

They’ve come to like at least a few of its provisions, such as the one allowing parents to provide coverage under their plans to their children until the kids turn 26, and the restrictions on denying coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions. Repealing the ACA in toto and then reinstating those provisions with no lapse in coverage could be tricky.

Then there’s “Oh yeah? You got a better idea?” — a concept that goes a long way to explaining why the existing Republican majority in the House has not brought up an “Obamacare” alternative for a floor vote.

In early June, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, of Jefferson, was pushing for a floor vote on an “Obamacare” alternative. Scalise was then chairman of the Republican Study Committee, an extra-conservative enclave within the House Republican majority, and he favored an RSC alternative to “Obamacare” that he had unveiled with some fanfare in 2013.

But the House Republican leadership, and many other Republicans, demurred. They figured the political winds were blowing in the Republicans’ favor, in part because of widespread dissatisfaction with “Obamacare,” so why mess with a good thing before the November elections? The leadership did promise Scalise that it would bring an alternative to the floor by the end of this year, an RSC aide said, even if that meant during the lame-duck session after the elections.

Scalise is no longer RSC chairman: He is now part of the Republican leadership himself, as majority whip, a post he assumed in mid-June. The elections are over, and the winds did blow the Republican way. But if the Republicans are bringing an “Obamacare” alternative to the House floor before the end of the year, they are being awfully quiet about it.

Meanwhile, Louisiana Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter is sharpening his focus on a particular slice of the “Obamacare” pie: the so-called exemption for members of Congress and their staffs.

The issue has its roots in 2010, when the law was working its way through Congress. Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, won approval of an amendment that required the federal government to stop offering members of Congress and their staffs the government-wide Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan — a typical workplace plan, with the employer paying about 75 percent of health coverage premiums and the employee paying the rest — but instead to “make available” only plans marketed through ACA insurance exchanges.

That left the members and their staffs in a sort of limbo: Unlike every other employer in the country, theirs could not offer them a standard workplace health plan and pick up most of the tab. The Obama administration then stepped in to promulgate a rule that said the government would continue to pay its share of the employees’ coverage provided they purchased it through the District of Columbia’s small-business exchange under the health law — something no other employer can do for exchange-provided coverage.

But there’s another wrinkle: The Grassley amendment allows members of Congress to designate some or all of their staffers exempt (that word again) from the amendment’s scope, pretty much at the members’ discretion.

Vitter wants to end the special treatment for Congress under “Obamacare” — by treating members and staffers in a different way that seems just as special but also somewhat punitive. Under his proposal, everyone from House Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio, to the lowliest Senate office receptionist would be required to buy health insurance through an ACA exchange — but could receive neither the employer contribution available to millions of workers across America nor the “Obamacare” subsidies available to millions more on the exchanges.

The Republican-controlled House recently rejected a similar proposal, and several Republican Senators dislike the idea, so Vitter has his work cut out for him.

Gregory Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. Follow him on Twitter, @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of government and politics, follow The Advocate Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.