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Roberts ruling on Obamacare rebukes partisanship with moderation

Few doubted the Supreme Court ruling on health care, or Obamacare, would be 5-4. Hardly anyone figured Chief Justice John G. Roberts would swing to uphold the law. His moderation is a measured rebuke to the law's politicization. Bipartisanship is needed on big issues.

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At a time when the national to-do list is long with urgent and significant issues – the national debt, immigration, energy security, climate change, etc. – the possibility of devoting another Congress to undoing health care runs contrary to the national interest.

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That is not to say the Affordable Care Act is perfect. There is certainly room for greater flexibility to states and businesses in addressing costs. Recognition of valid nonmedical approaches to health care are also appropriate. But these and other omissions reflect the impoverishing effect of obstructive politics.

Obama’s legislation passed without a single Republican vote. It is not only tempting but possible to imagine how much stronger the Act might have been – and how unnecessary the court drama that followed – had it emerged from an engaged bipartisan debate and agreement.

This might be where the court decision constructively points a finger at those most responsible for the shape of our politics: the people.

According to an ABC/Washington Post poll released prior to the court ruling, just 36 percent of respondents held a positive opinion of the health-care law, yet 39 percent also say the health-care system is broken. It is tempting in times of fierce partisanship to decry the governing model the Framers devised as so fraught with checks and balances as to be impossibly dysfunctional. But the purpose is to force compromise.

Blocs like the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement reflect a restive public. Public opinion of Congress hovers below 10 percent. These negatives are stirred up by an increasingly partisan media environment where the line between opinion and news is blurred and facts become harder to discern.

But the Roberts decision has made it clear where the responsibility for public policy rightly lies. “Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law,” he wrote in the majority opinion. “[W]e possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them.”

The Supreme Court has set the table. It is now up to the people to determine how and whether we return to constructive debate.

Kurt Shillinger is a former political reporter for The Christian Science Monitor. He also covered sub-Saharan Africa for The Boston Globe.


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