It seems that Obamacare or better yet the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which the Supreme Court is deliberating at present in the case that will go down as Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, is, at least in some part, doomed to failure at the Supreme Court.
To see this, we need only examine the current makeup of the court – a block of the republican judges of the republican presidents and a block of the democratic judges of the democratic presidents – the operating math here being that the republican block has just one more member. Conservative Chief Justice Roberts seems more often than not accompanied by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito in a 5-4 decision against liberal Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Ginsberg. In a case as politicized as this one, the chances of any of the republican justices not moving for at least the removal of the mandate is hard to conceive, much less a compromise allowing the bill to remain in place as it is.
At best, the bill may be partially saved by abandoning the individual mandate requiring American citizens to purchase health insurance. The court covered this issue when it addressed the “severability” of the mandate; could the mandate be removed while keeping the legislation intact, or is the legislation fully predicated upon the individual mandate? If the Justices find that the mandate is not integral to the bill, then it will be business as usual for politics, if not for the health care of the American people. The Obama campaign can continue to tout the benefits of the bill that exist outside of the mandate, such as allowing dependents to use their parent’s insurance until age 26, and the Romney campaign (and yes, it will be a Romney campaign in November) will continue to lambast the regulation that is so contrary to its laissez-faire principles, meaning that all that will occur is a shift from “Obamacare is an accomplishment of my term” and “I’ll repeal Obamacare on day 1” to “The rest of Obamacare is an accomplishment of my term” and “I’ll repeal the rest of Obamacare on day 1.”
So, then, let’s analyze what could take place if Obamacare is deemed unconstitutional in its whole rather than one of its parts, as was ruled by Justice Roger Vinson before the bill came to the Supreme Court. This would be, contradictory to who’s fighting over what, actually a win for the Democrats. If the court leaves the legislation in place in any respect, then Obama is stuck with a highly politically unpopular bill – a significant majority of Americans oppose the act as it stands today, and would continue to associate it with the negative feelings connected to the mandate even if said mandate were struck down. Bringing the bill up in speeches or debates serves only to rile up those who already believe in its benefits, extreme Democrats who will come out to support him if only because their other option is Romney. Those without Romney’s history of reform in Massachussets and thus more “anti-Obamacare purity” will be able to gain votes in downticket races off of promises to repeal the act, helping Romney as the voters who come in to vote for a Republican congressman will also vote for a Republican president – “come for the legislative branch, stay for the legislative branch” as they say in nowhere.
However, if Obamacare is lost, then it goes from an unpopular boogeyman that scares Republicans and undecided voters to a symbol that the campaign can use – one of an attempt to help the American people ultimately stifled by a Republican party that has repeatedly announced its main goal as the takedown of the Obama presidency, fitting just alongside the Buffet rule struck down days ago in a narrative of “we try solutions, they sabotage said solutions” – a calling cry that may not have
worked in 2008 or 2010, but works in 2012. Americans have become frustrated just as much, if not more so, with the gridlock that government faces resulting in debacles like the debt ceiling crisis as the policies that it is capable of passing. Americans have given historically low approval ratings to a legislative branch they feel has gotten caught up in politics as opposed to finding solutions, and Obamacare is far more useful as a solution that was dismantled by the opposition to one than as one in action that nobody likes. Obama would surely rather that voters focus on the effort rather than the product.
As for the jewels in Obama’s crown of accomplishments, he can continue to have enough even if Obamacare is a lost cause: the Lily Ledbetter Act, Libya, ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, finding and killing Osama Bin Ladin, passing the stimulus package, legislation to expand the definition of hate crimes, and a host of smaller legislation that you can expect to be trotted out the moment that the general election heats up, alongside Obamacare or not.
As for things under Romney’s tent, the inevitable Republican nominee will lose any power he had left to move against Obamacare, which he typically extends into the larger issue of free markets v. reform and regulation. While this would theoretically weaken the argument of his flip-flopping from pro-Romneycare to anti-Obamacare, this issue would remain a subconscious added-on theme to any other criticism of his flip-flopping on issues like birth control or gay marriage.
It seems like Obamacare is doomed to fail, and Obama set to profit. However, I think we’ll all profit when the election moves away from Obamacare and towards what really matters: which President is a better dog owner.