The King v. Burwell lawsuit challenges the legality of subsidies offered on federal exchanges based on four words ("established by the state") located in the tax code section of the law. If these subsidies are eliminated, some 6 million people who receive subsidies on federal exchanges risk losing their health coverage.
"This is no accident. This is exactly the way the law was written—to coerce states to establish state exchanges," Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who has sponsored a bill to address the fallout—and repeal the individual and employer mandates—said in an interview. "And the carrot out there is if you didn't establish it, you're not getting the subsidies. So 37 states decided not to do that, and here's the result."
Obama says he is confident the court will rule in favor of his administration in King v. Burwell, but if it doesn't, Congress could just fix any resulting problem with a single sentence. The Supreme Court and both houses of Congress, of course, have conservative majorities, and Democrats would spend most of the summer pointing the finger across the aisle.
Speaking to the Catholic Health Association on Tuesday, Obama described as "deeply cynical" the continued effort to backtrack on the progress that he praised: Millions of people covered, people with preexisting conditions protected from discrimination, health care costs slowed.
"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. "I understood folks being skeptical or worried before the law passed and there wasn't a reality to examine. But once you see millions of people having health care, once you see that all the bad things that were predicted didn't happen, you'd think that it'd be time to move on."
Both sides, however, are not moving on.
"Republicans aren't interested in a one-sentence fix unless that sentence is, 'Obamacare is repealed,'" Sen. John Barrasso said Tuesday on the Senate floor.
"The president can speak for himself on that, but I expect he's going to say, 'All these things that the Supreme Court said are illegal—just make 'em legal,'" Barrasso added in an interview afterwards. "We're not going to do some fake or phony fix for the president and his actions if the Supreme Court rules they're illegal."
Sen. John McCain had another idea on what a single-sentence solution would look like coming from Obama.
"I guess you can write one sentence that says, 'Everything I do is legal,'" McCain told National Journal, adding that it is "foolishness" to think the law could be fixed so simply.
"Then what's the effect on all the rest of the bill by that? That, in my view, that is a simplistic answer to a very complex issue. Because they're all interconnected," he said. "If it was all that easy, it would have been done originally. It wasn't."