Can the Christian Right Persuade Republicans to Fix Obamacare?

| Mon Jun. 17, 2013 12:30 PM EDT

A loyal reader just emailed to beg me to write about something other than NSA surveillance. I make no promises for the future, since I'm pretty caught up by the story, but perhaps a breather is in order. Luckily, Ann Kim and Ed Kilgore have served up a perfect little morsel to warm the heart of any liberal.

As you know, conservatives are doing everything they can to sabotage Obamacare. This includes court fights, refusal to expand Medicaid even though it's practically free, declining to set up state exchanges, and, of course, the flat rejection of any tweaks to Obamacare from House Republicans. The problem is that any big law is likely to need small adjustments here and there to clarify things or fix small bugs, but Republicans don't want to fix bugs. They want Obamacare to fail, so as far as they're concerned, bugs are good things. But what happens if one of those bugs happens to impact a key part of the GOP base?

For the first time, a constituency group to whom the GOP normally pays close attention—religious institutions—is asking for a legislative "fix" of the Affordable Care Act to make it work as intended....Without the requested "fix," as many as one million clergy members and church employees now enrolled in church-sponsored health plans could soon face the choice of leaving these plans (designed to meet their unique needs, such as the frequent reassignment of clergy across state lines) or losing access to the tax subsidies provided by the ACA to help lower-to-middle income Americans purchase insurance.

Observers generally agree that the exclusion of church health plans from eligibility for the exchanges, which occurred because they do not sell policies to the general public, was an oversight caused by staffers scrambling to draft bill language under tight deadlines. Because employees of religious institutions are usually paid modestly, many will qualify for subsidies made available on a sliding scale to families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. But the subsidies can only be used to purchase insurance from the exchanges.

Apparently this problem is starting to attract the attention of religious groups, including large, conservative denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention, who don't want their clergy to lose access to tax breaks just because of an unintentional drafting error. But can even the Christian Right persuade House Republicans to take a short break from their scorched-earth campaign against Obamacare? Stay tuned.