It's health care week in the House, and although the chamber isn't scheduled to vote on what to do if the Supreme Court knocks down Obamacare subsidies, the upcoming decision in King v Burwell will still dominate the conversation.
The House will vote on legislation that would repeal some of the most-hated or controversial pieces of the Affordable Care Act: the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which its opponents have derided as a "death panel"; and the medical-device tax, which helps cover Obamacare's costs. Several bills reforming Medicare Advantage will also appear on the floor.
Each side hopes to have the last word in the ear of the public prior to the announcement of the Supreme Court's decision, and by bringing the bills to the floor this week, the GOP messaging rings out loud and clear: Regardless of the Court's decision on King v. Burwell, the Affordable Care Act is a bad law.
"With the economic downturn and rising healthcare costs, seniors, like so many other Americans, have seen their finances spread thin. Obamacare makes it even worse," the office of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said in a memo last month.
The House is scheduled to begin voting on the MA bills Wednesday and the IPAB and medical-device repeals Thursday. They are virtually certain to pass. The IPAB repeal has 20 Democratic cosponsors, and the medical-device-tax repeal has 41. But the Obama administration has threatened to veto both, continuing to escalate tension in the health care arena.
The bill repealing the medical-device tax "would increase the deficit to finance a permanent and costly tax break for industry without improving the health system or helping middle-class Americans," the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement released Monday evening.
The medical-device-tax repeal is also facing Democratic opposition in the Senate, although it could likely get some support in the minority.
"They've indicated that they're not going to support it. There are a number of them who will support it, of course," Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said in an interview last week. "All I can say is I intend to get it done."
The bills are also made potentially irrelevant by the looming Court decision. If the conservative challengers win in the King case, more than 6 million Americans enrolled on federal exchanges will lose their subsidies and marketplaces will be thrown into what's commonly referred to as a death spiral, in which healthy people drop their insurance, premiums go up, and more people drop their insurance. If that happens, IPAB and the medical-device tax will be the last components of Obamacare on anyone's mind.
More importantly, the bills give the House a platform to continue the GOP's campaign against Obamacare, particularly in response to the administration's campaign in support of it.
The president spoke twice last week on the law's successes.
"We're not going to go backwards. There is something, I have to say, just deeply cynical about the ceaseless, endless, partisan attempts to roll back progress," he said, speaking at the Catholic Health Association.
Congress is taking every opportunity for heated debate over not just the legality of subsidies, but the value of the law itself. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing, led by Sen. Ted Cruz, examining the origin of the subsidy law resulted in heated partisan debate on Obamacare two weeks ago. Last week, several Republican House members, including Chairman Paul Ryan, grilled Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell at a Ways and Means Committee hearing on what the administration's plan is if the challengers prevail in King.
Caitlin Owens is a health care reporter at National Journal. Her work has previously appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.