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March 2 — It’s not often that attorneys are able to work on a law from inception to enactment, but that’s exactly what Rachel Leiser Levy was able to do when she began working with the Joint Committee on Taxation and helped craft what eventually became the Affordable Care Act.
“It was the thrill of a lifetime,” says Levy, now a principal with Groom Law Group Chartered in Washington. She has come full circle with a law that she helped create, she told Bloomberg BNA on Feb. 25.
“I think very few people are lucky enough to be able to fall into something like that,” Levy said. “Regardless of what one thinks about the law and its merits and possible shortcomings, it touches almost everybody. It was the first real attempt at dealing with an issue that everybody on both sides of the aisle admitted was a real problem. It was incredibly thrilling and very exhausting.”
Levy, the daughter of a nuclear physicist and an elementary school teacher, is a Washington native, but lived in Vienna, Austria, for part of her youth. Her future in the law was evident at a young age, she said.
“I was an extremely argumentative child. All of my elementary school teachers told me when I spoke back to them that I was going to be a lawyer,” she said.
Despite the prognostications, she didn’t immediately pursue a career in law. She studied English literature at Yeshiva University Stern College in New York, but decided that she didn’t have “the stomach for that many years of discussing other people’s work.”
After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School in December 2004, Levy stayed in Chicago a while before eventually making her way to Washington. There she landed a job as legislation counsel with the Joint Committee on Taxation in August 2008.
“I got super lucky and got that job and that sort of drew me into the tax world. I love it, I could not be happier,” she said.
The position with the JCT was Levy's “dream job” and she headed there knowing there was a good chance she'd have a shot at working on comprehensive changes to America’s health-care system.
“I really went there to work on what became the ACA. I was lucky enough to do that,” Levy said.
Besides the ACA, Levy worked on the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, and the Worker, Retiree, and Employer Recovery Act of 2008, among others.
“I worked on a little bit of everything, but the ACA was really sort of the labor of love and what marked my entire time there,” she said.
Though she relished her time with the JCT, she eventually moved to the Treasury Department in 2012, where she served as an attorney-adviser in the Office of Tax Policy and as associate benefits tax council.
“The lure of going to work on the regulations and implementing the law I worked really hard on, I eventually gave into that. That was also equally rewarding,” Levy said.
Joining Groom in February 2015 was a “logical step” in the progression, Levy said. And though it took a while to get used to, Levy said that her supportive colleagues made it a “soft landing.”
After working on the ACA from the beginning, Levy said it’s nice to see how it works in the real world.
In the drafting stages of the bill that eventually became the ACA, Levy said she was focused on the big policy goals, but there are only so many details that a law can cover.
“There’s just a lot that is kicked over to the agencies,” she said. At the agency level, regulators are dealing with smaller and more concrete issues, but an agency is still regulating for the entire population, she said. Working with individual clients allows her to see a whole different side of the ACA.
“I feel a little bit more complete now. I feel sort of like the blind person with the elephant, you touch all the different parts of it and it all feels a little bit different and it’s hard sometimes to get a sense of the whole,” she said.
Being able to work on such an expansive law was a rewarding opportunity for Levy. While the law has become controversial, Levy says working on the law in its nascent stages wasn't partisan.
“Because JCT is non-partisan and is bicameral, they’re really sheltered from a lot of the politics. We worked for Republicans and Democrats and House and Senate, so it’s not that I didn’t see what was going on,” she said. But there was such a focus on the legislative wording and scoring, that she didn't pay much attention to the brouhaha surrounding it, she said.
While she may have been shielded from the politics surrounding the legislation, Levy said she isn't surprised that legal battles over it continue.
“I think you see with a lot of ground-breaking legislation, you see a lot of litigation activity certainly in the early years. I wouldn’t say that I predicted it or didn’t, I think it was just one of those things that one has to roll with,” Levy said.
With a full-time job and three children, Levy doesn't have much spare time. She said in her time off she enjoys spending time with her children, cooking and reading.
The other thing she enjoys doing? Her job.
“I really do find it fun,” she said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Kristen Ricaurte Knebel in Washington at email@example.com
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