With it a near certainty that sometime Thursday morning we will finally know whether the Supreme Court will strike down the Affordable Care Act, the political parties have spent much of this week pondering what they will do in the event the president’s signature legislation is ruled unconstitutional. The Democrats are fairly certain of their course of action if their side loses tomorrow. They will attack the Court and the GOP while attempting to change the narrative of the issue from one about a government power grab to the plight of the uninsured. Republicans are less certain; as the putative victors in the controversy, their inclination may be to sit back and gloat.
As Politico reports today, congressional Republicans have no plans to respond to the downfall of ObamaCare with legislation aimed at filling in the gap if the president’s plan goes down, even if it means allowing some of the more popular provisions in a profoundly unpopular bill are lost with the rest of the plan. While doing nothing may be dangerous as it risks losing the initiative to the left, the thinking here is they are right to pass on getting bogged down this year on an alternative. But a refusal to try to push through a new bill shouldn’t be confused with passivity. Conservatives must be ready to start pushing back against the left’s attempt to demonize the Court or allow them to make the public forget the issue here isn’t sympathy for the poor but the defense of liberty.
The temptation to come up with a comprehensive alternative to ObamaCare if it is struck down will be great. The Democrats will inevitably demand the GOP step into the vacuum left by the bill’s destruction, and there are some Republicans who have ready-made plans they’ll wish to put forward. But in doing so, they will just be providing the left with easy targets for criticism and perhaps render themselves vulnerable to the same problems that afflicted the Democrats’ rush to ram ObamaCare through Congress two years ago. The last thing Republicans need is to propose another bill that no one will have read or understood when it comes up for a vote.
However, Republicans do need to avoid sitting back and letting liberals get the better of them. So long as ObamaCare was on the books, conservatives could just fire away at its shortcomings and make the case that it was an unconscionable power grab by the federal government. Rather than just taking bows if the Court rules their way, they need to keep hammering away on this.
More to the point, they need to have the courage of their convictions and not fear the Democrats will have the better of the argument in the coming months. Though the left is acting as if a ruling that ObamaCare is unconstitutional will be a blow to Mitt Romney’s chances of defeating the president, that isn’t true. As liberal blogger/analyst Nate Silver points out in the New York Times, though Congress and the Supreme Court are widely disliked, ObamaCare is even more unpopular.