Supreme Court begins hearing arguments in Obamacare challenge

The Supreme Court has begun hearing the latest legal challenge to Obamacare, marking the third time that the landmark health care legislation has gone before the highest court in the land.

Oral arguments got underway Tuesday morning in the case dubbed California v. Texas, with the health care of millions of Americans potentially hanging in the balance.

A coalition of 18 Republican states, led by Texas, contends that a 2017 tax package eliminating Obamacare’s penalty for not having health insurance also renders the whole plan unconstitutional.

The GOP argument is predicated on a previous Supreme Court ruling that the now-eliminated monetary penalty was what made Obamacare a constitutionally-sound law, as opposed to an unconstitutional federal mandate requiring Americans to purchase health insurance.

Twenty Democrat-helmed states, led by California, argue that because Americans can no longer be penalized for not having health insurance, Obamacare is not a mandate and, therefore, is constitutional.

As the Democratic argument goes, the elimination of the monetary penalty means that Obamacare is effectively just a means through which Americans can acquire health insurance if they desire, not a constitutionally murky mandate that they must do so.

President Trump had heralded the 2017 tax package as a resounding defeat of Obamacare, fulfilling half of his campaign trail promise to “repeal and replace” the controversial program.

But otherwise, it has remained largely intact, despite the numerous challenges against it.

That 2017 deal came shortly after Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain — defeated by Obamacare’s namesake in the 2008 presidential election — broke with party ranks to deal the final blow to a more direct “skinny repeal” attempt by Trump and Senate Republicans.

In swatting down the skinny repeal over what he saw as a lack of debate and planning a replacement, McCain — then battling the brain cancer that would claim his life in 2018 — saved Obamacare, but earned Trump’s enduring enmity.

While Obamacare, known formally as the Affordable Care Act, has already survived two previous Supreme Court challenges in its 10-year life, it faces for the first time a conservative-heavy court, thanks to the addition of three appointees by Trump: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and, just last month, Amy Coney Barrett.

A ruling in not expected until the spring, by which point President-elect Joe Biden — who served as veep under President Obama — will have been inaugurated.

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