Photo: Dreamstime/TNS
Photo: Dreamstime/TNS

The Jolt: An Obamacare hearing with deep implications -- for the GOP and a Democratic presidential field

The fate of former President Barack Obama's signature health care law, and its coverage and insurance protections for millions of Americans, is again being argued this morning before a panel of judges — this time a federal appeals court in New Orleans.

It’s a hearing with tremendous import for Republicans here in Georgia, and for an army of Democratic presidential candidates. The basics, from the Associated Press:

At issue in a hearing by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is whether Congress effectively rendered it unconstitutional in 2017 when it zeroed out the tax imposed on those who chose not to buy insurance. Texas-based U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor declared in December that it did. The law's supporters appealed.

It's unclear when the panel will rule in a case that appears destined for the Supreme Court, which has reviewed the law before. The ultimate outcome will affect protections for people with pre-existing conditions; Medicaid expansions covering roughly 12 million people; and subsidies that help about 10 million others afford health insurance.

Our WSB Radio colleague Jamie Dupree notes the broad generational range of the judicial panel that will hear the arguments:

The three judges who will hear the appeal are Kurt Engelhardt, who was put on the bench by President Donald Trump; Jennifer Elrod, nominated by President George W. Bush; and, Carolyn King, put on the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter.

The political implications are vast. Eighteen states governed by Republicans are pressing the issue. At the state Capitol today, supporters of the Affordable Care Act – including state Rep. David Dreyer, D-Atlanta – have scheduled a gathering to draw attention to Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican who has championed the lawsuit on behalf of Georgia.

But the continuing GOP-backed attempt to scrap “Obamacare” also underscores a contentious debate over health care among Democratic presidential candidates.

Most of the top-tier contenders – including Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker – favor some form of single-payer “Medicare-for-all” system that would also negate the Affordable Care Act.

In a CNN interview last night, former Vice President Joe Biden says he opposes a single-payer system for that very reason.

“I’m opposed to any Republican who wants to dismantle it, or any Democrat who wants to dismantle it. The idea that you’re going to come along and take away the most significant thing that any president has tried to do – and it got done – makes no sense to me,” Biden said. “Starting over would be, I think, a sin.”

***

State Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, the author of the new abortion restrictions that have dominated political discourse in Georgia, had an unusually sparse campaign report this reporting period. He raised just $265. 

That’s a startlingly low amount for a Republican in an Acworth-based district that Democrats hope to contend. And a lack of fundraising is usually a precursor to a decision not to stand for another term. 

Lest you think Setzler is about to retire, though, he offered this all-caps statement in his disclosure filing:

“CITIZENS TO ELECT ED SETZLER CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE WAS SICKENED BY THE STRIDENT FUNDRAISING EFFORTS OF THE OPPONENTS OF THE LIVING INFANTS FAIRNESS & EQUALITY ACT (HB-481) IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE 2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION. IN RESPECT FOR THE MORE THAN 60 MILLION HUMAN BEINGS KILLED BY ABORTION

SINCE 1973, THE CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE DID NOT SOLICIT ANY CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS FROM APRIL-JUNE 2019; ALL CONTRIBUTIONS RECEIVED WERE UNSOLICITED DONATIONS. CAMPAIGN FUNDRAISING EFFORTS WILL RESUME IN JULY 2019 FOR THE 2020 ELECTION CYCLE.”

Last November, Setzler defeated Democrat Salvatore Castellana 52-48%. A 49% showing by gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in House District 35 has also put Setzler’s seat a Democratic hit list.

***

On a similar note, Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker, raised nothing, according to his campaign disclosure report -- but had no handy-dandy explanation for the lack of fundraising. He also gave about $12,000 of his campaign cash away, mostly to political allies or charity groups. He’s got $20,000 or so left in the tank. Recall that the DeKalb Democrat faced a closer-than-expected primary last year against an unknown rival. Henson has been tight-lipped about his plans, but consider this report a strong hint that he may not be running again. 

***

More campaign finance notes:

-- Our AJC colleague James Salzer reports that Gov. Brian Kemp raised more than $700,000 over six months for his re-election campaign - and his archrival, Stacey Abrams, took in nearly $4 million for her Fair Fight Action voting rights group.

-- In the state’s most closely-watched judicial race, former Democratic congressman John Barrow raised about $300,000 for an open state Supreme Court seat. That includes at least $6,500 from former House colleagues and $14,000 from his wife and his own pocket. He’s running against Appeals Court Judge Sara Doyle, who had a solid debut quarter of her own. She raised roughly $220,000 from donors that include several colleagues on the appeals court bench.

-- Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan collected about $70,000 after the legislative session ended, much of it from lobbyists and corporate PACs. He’s got $260,000 in his account.

-- Attorney General Chris Carr didn’t raise a dime, and has nearly $60,000 in cash on hand, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger banked $44,000 and loaned himself another $5,000.

-- House Speaker David Ralston amassed another $60,000 after the end of the session and has roughly $630,000 in the bank to dispense to allies and fend off an insurrection attempt

***

Our AJC colleague Jeremy Redmon tells us that Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks announced Monday that it would no longer provide financing to companies that operate private prisons and immigration detention centers – more fallout from the debate over the treatment of detainees at the U.S.-Mexican border.

***

Prisons were also on the mind of Harold Melton, chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, when he spoke in Athens on Monday. From the Athens Banner-Herald:

[R]eforms have slowed the rapid growth in the number of people behind bars in Georgia, he said. The prison population is about 6,000 less than the 59,000 it was projected to reach, before reforms began about eight years ago.

“That’s four prisons we didn’t have to build just in the past few years,” he said.

***

Channel 2 Action News reports that Fulton County Superior Court Judge Rachel Krause has ordered the entire South Fulton city council to appear before her to explain why the city hasn’t handed over a document relating to the firing of its chief magistrate court judge, Tiffany Sellers, ahead of an upcoming hearing.

***

One of your Insiders caught a town hall meeting last night with Democratic Party of Georgia chair Nikema Williams, who let loose a little news: The party is launching an effort to contest more municipal races.

Those contests are nonpartisan in Georgia, of course, but locals often know “who is a Democrat and who is not.” 

“And we’re not going to support Republicans,” said Williams, “because they use these as stepping stones.” 

The state party poured money the last two election cycles to defeat Atlanta mayoral candidate Mary Norwood, a self-described independent with hefty Republican support. But it’s been less involved in other city elections.

“Contest every race,” said Williams. “We’re doing a pitch to get Democrats to run for municipal races. You don’t have to have a D or an R beside your name. When I walk into a grocery store, I don’t have a D by my name, but I carry my Democratic values with me.”

***

Gov. Brian Kemp has set the election to replace Republican state Rep. David Stover, R-Newnan, for Sept. 3. Stover, one of 10 Republican House members who signed onto an effort calling for the resignation of Speaker Ralston, abruptly announced his resignation last month. He was accused last year of living in Britain rather than his district. You can catch up on those details here.

The Newnan Times-Herald reports that three Republican candidates have already announced for the contest.

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