Exclusive: Obama defends lack of 'Plan B' for Obamacare court case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Monday said he thinks there is no “plausible legal basis” for the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a key plank of Obamacare, defending his administration’s lack of a contingency plan.

U.S. President Barack Obama takes his seat for an exclusive interview with Reuters in the Library of the White House in Washington March 2, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

And he promised to rule on the Keystone XL pipeline before he leaves office, although he would not say whether it will take him “weeks or months” to determine whether the project is in the national interest.

Obama touched on two main domestic policy issues during an interview with Reuters.

On the Affordable Care Act, his signature policy achievement commonly referred to as Obamacare, the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on Wednesday in the case known as King v. Burwell.

The case challenges wording in the 2010 law that could affect whether residents in at least 34 U.S. states are eligible for federal tax subsidies to help them buy insurance.

“Look, this should be a pretty straightforward case of statutory interpretation,” Obama said.

“If you look at the law, if you look at the testimony of those who are involved in the law, including some of the opponents of the law, the understanding was that people who joined a federal exchange were going to be able to access tax credits just like if they went through a state exchange,” he said.

“There is, in our view, not a plausible legal basis for striking it down,” he said.

If the Supreme Court disagrees, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell has told lawmakers that there are no contingency plans to deal with the loss of subsidies.

“If they rule against us, we’ll have to take a look at what our options are. But I’m not going to anticipate that. I’m not going to anticipate bad law,” Obama told Reuters.

On the Canada-to-Texas Keystone crude oil pipeline, which has been in limbo for more than six years, Obama said a decision “will happen before the end of my administration, definitely.”

Asked whether it would take weeks or months, he answered with a smile: “Weeks or months.”

The TransCanada Corp pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels a day of mostly Canadian oil sands crude.

Environmentalists have fought the pipeline because they argue it will spur development of a fuel they say is more polluting than other types of crude oil.

Energy industry officials argue that oil sands development is destined to expand and blocking Keystone would do nothing to discourage development.

Reporting By Jeff Mason; Writing by Roberta Rampton, Valerie Volcovici, Patrick Rucker; Editing by Grant McCool