The US Supreme Court has spoken. Let the politics begin.
Opponents of President Obama’s health-care reform are enraged, following the high court’s unexpected 5-to-4 ruling Thursday that upheld the law, including the controversial individual mandate to purchase health insurance. Supporters of the law are ecstatic, having braced themselves for defeat.
Immediately, the issue is thrust into the center of the presidential campaign, as well as House and Senate races. Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, insist the law must be repealed and replaced. But for any legislation to defund or overturn the law to be enacted, the GOP must take control of both houses of Congress and retake the White House.
“This is a time of choice for the American people,” Mr. Romney said after the court ruling. “Our mission is clear. If we want to get rid of ‘Obamacare,’ we’re going to have to replace President Obama.”
Romney called the health-care law a “job-killer” that raises taxes, cuts Medicare, and adds trillions to the national debt and deficits. He also maintained that as many as 20 million Americans will lose their current insurance.
“And perhaps most troubling of all, ‘Obamacare’ puts the federal government between you and your doctor,” Romney said.
In addition, the Supreme Court majority’s surprise finding that the penalty for not buying insurance is a “tax” – which allowed the court to work around the Commerce Clause of the Constitution – fuels the old arguments about “tax and spend Democrats.”
These are the talking points that Republicans will use heading into the fall elections. But for the GOP, having Romney as the effective head of the party is awkward, given his leadership as governor of Massachusetts in instituting a health reform that served as the model for Obama’s plan. Romney has maintained that health care should be handled at the state level, and that what works for Massachusetts isn’t necessarily right for the nation. Still, on this issue, he’s not the party’s cleanest messenger.
Moments after Romney spoke, Obama weighed in from the East Room of the White House. And just as House Speaker John Boehner (R) had warned his caucus last week against “spiking the ball” in anticipation that “Obamacare” would be overturned, Obama, too, seemed to be following that advice. He spoke in well-modulated tones, barely smiling, as he insisted that the politics of the matter were beside the point.
“Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it,” Obama said.
The president then focused on the aspects of the law that are already popular, such as the guarantees of coverage despite someone's pre-existing health conditions and the ability of young adults up to age 26 to be included on their parents’ insurance plan.
He also acknowledged the controversy around the unpopular individual mandate, which he had not supported four years ago as a presidential candidate but ultimately included in the law as a way to bring the insurance industry on board.
“Well, it should be pretty clear by now that I didn’t do this because it was good politics,” he said. “I did it because I believed it was good for the country.”
Now, with the blessing of the Supreme Court, he gets to test the theory of his plan, which goes into full implementation in January 2014.
The court’s decision raises the stakes for the November election. If Obama is reelected, the Affordable Care Act is virtually certain to remain in law. If he loses, the law could be in peril. But Obama and his allies have been counting on growing public appreciation for the law as time goes on, and as its provisions go into effect.
The November election is likely to be decided on the state of the economy, not “Obamacare.” But if the Republicans can succeed in convincing swing voters that Obama and the Democrats have overreached on health care – especially in the very personal decisions it entails – they will have created another avenue for defeating the president.