Despite an economy in real trouble, President Obama spent much of his first two years in office getting his health care plan through Congress. Passed with no Republican votes whatever, the plan was deeply unpopular with the public and has only gotten more so. Now the country awaits a Supreme Court decision on its constitutionality with a level of interest unseen since Brown v. Board of Education 58 years ago.
For all the speculation on whether the law will stand or fall, there has been almost as much on what the political impact of the decision will be in this presidential election year. If it is upheld, it would be a vindication for the president, who badly needs a political boost right now. But it is also likely to galvanize still further the opposition, which is already highly motivated.
On the other hand, if all of the law or the individual mandate provision is struck down (which would mean in all likelihood that the whole law is infeasible), the president will be seen as having wasted his own political capital and the country’s time when there was much economic distress and fiscal problems that should have been dealt with instead. He will be perceived as having been politically incompetent.
Yet, the death of Obamacare would lift a vast amount of uncertainty from the marketplace, and uncertainty, even more than bad news, depresses markets. As Betsy McCaughey pointed out recently in IBD, the requirement that employers with 50 or more employees provide a specified level of health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a $2000 fine per employee will greatly increase labor costs, by an average of $1.79 an hour for each employee. That would be the biggest government-mandated labor cost hike in American history. This has made employers reluctant to hire, as their future labor costs are to a significant degree currently unknown. And those firms with nearly 50 employees have been very reluctant indeed to cross that threshold, for fear of becoming subject to the mandate.
With that uncertainty suddenly removed, there could be an immediate marked increase in hiring, leading to a fall in the unemployment rate. That would be a Godsend to the Obama campaign.
With the chattering classes collectively holding their breaths, the decision could come Monday. (Actually, I’m betting against Monday. At the penultimate sitting of the Court in June, the chief justice usually announces that the next sitting will be its last before the Court recesses for the summer. Chief Justice Roberts did not make such an announcement last Thursday, and so Monday probably won’t be the last decision day this term. The biggest decision of the year—in this case, the biggest decision in decades—is almost always announced on the last day of the term.)
But if it does come Monday and you want to get the news first, log onto scotusblog.com at ten o’clock tomorrow morning. They’ll be liveblogging the decisions being handed down at that time. The health care opinion is likely to be written by the most senior justice in the majority and so will be among the last to be announced, as decisions are read beginning with those written by the most junior justice. If Chief Justice Roberts is in the majority—which most likely means all or part of the law will be struck down—it will be announced last.
For what it’s worth, the Intrade odds as of Sunday morning are at 78.2 percent that the individual mandate will be thrown out, better than 3-to-1 and up sharply in the last few weeks.