Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., blasted the court's ruling that Congress only wanted to provide tax subsidies in states with their own exchanges an "absurd" move by "two activist Republican judges."
The administration plans to appeal the ruling to the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which now has more Democrat-appointed judges after the nuclear option blew up GOP attempts to filibuster Obama's nominees. Asked by reporters if his decision to employ the nuclear option to fill the circuit was vindicated, Reid said based on “simple math, you bet.”
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said he wouldn’t be surprised if the full court ruled in the White House's favor.
“There was a strong conservative Republican majority on the D.C. Circuit until we filled the vacancies,” Durbin said. “Now it’s a balanced circuit, so since one of the Republicans of the three who ruled was on our side I wouldn’t give up on a…ruling coming our way, toward the administration.”
The court ruled the health care law authorizes subsidies only through state exchanges, not the federal exchange, potentially eliminating subsidies for millions of low- and middle-income residents.
That ruling conflicted with the conclusion of a three-judge panel in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Va., which ruled 3-0 that Congress intended to offer the subsidies on a nationwide basis, despite ambiguity in the law.
“We know that Congressional Republicans will try to use the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s outlier ruling as a scare tactic to confuse Americans about the future of the ACA,” said Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in a statement. “Let me be clear: tax credits for Americans who qualify will continue as this case continues to make its way through the legal system. Americans who received financial help in 2014 and those who seek coverage for 2015 should know that tax credits and subsidies will remain available.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest also touted the fourth circuit ruling.
“Another partisan attempt to harm the Affordable Care Act failed today,” Earnest said in a release. “This latest attempt was undermined by a unanimous judicial panel in the 4th Circuit. The law was designed to make health care affordable through tax credits — and it is working.”
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Democrats using the "nuclear option" were trying to pack the court for just such an occasion.
“I welcome an opportunity for the Supreme Court to take it up and that is what I am calling on today,” he continued.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Senate Republican Conference chairman, said he too hopes the high court weighs in.
“I’m sure if I was Obama I would want to get it litigated at the full circuit because he’s effectively packed the court,” Thune said. “But now that you have this conflicting opinion, most often what happens is the Supreme Court can assert jurisdiction, that is within their purview to do that. So I would hope that that would be where it gets resolved now.”
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.