Commentary Magazine


Topic: health care debate

GOP Shouldn’t Rush to Replace ObamaCare

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.

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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.

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Court Win Won’t End the Fight for ObamaCare Foes

As Politico notes this morning, many of the groups that led the fight against ObamaCare are preparing to party next week. Though all say they understand there is no way of knowing what the Supreme Court will do when it finally issues its ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, most of the foes of President Obama’s signature legislation are fairly bursting with optimism about the decision. Their glee at the impending demise of a deeply unpopular bill is matched by the gloom of the president’s supporters, who are already plotting their revenge on conservatives by preparing to spend the next four months complaining about the way the Court will have thwarted the will of the legislature.

In this respect, the left has an advantage, because while they have no more idea of what the Court will do than the right, they do seem to have a plan. That’s why conservatives should not be spending the last days before the Court’s announcement getting ready to party. If the Court overturns ObamaCare, its opponents must be prepared for a political battle that will be just as important as the one they have already fought and perhaps won. The wind can change pretty quickly in politics, and if ObamaCare’s detractors allow liberals to seize the initiative in the next few days, they may spend the next few years regretting the way Democrats got control of the health care narrative. If the president and his backers are able to change the conversation from one about constitutional usurpation and big government control of health care back to their favorite themes of the plight of the uninsured, rapacious insurance companies, it could not only affect the outcome of the presidential election but also set the stage for future debates on the issue that may not go as well for the right.

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As Politico notes this morning, many of the groups that led the fight against ObamaCare are preparing to party next week. Though all say they understand there is no way of knowing what the Supreme Court will do when it finally issues its ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, most of the foes of President Obama’s signature legislation are fairly bursting with optimism about the decision. Their glee at the impending demise of a deeply unpopular bill is matched by the gloom of the president’s supporters, who are already plotting their revenge on conservatives by preparing to spend the next four months complaining about the way the Court will have thwarted the will of the legislature.

In this respect, the left has an advantage, because while they have no more idea of what the Court will do than the right, they do seem to have a plan. That’s why conservatives should not be spending the last days before the Court’s announcement getting ready to party. If the Court overturns ObamaCare, its opponents must be prepared for a political battle that will be just as important as the one they have already fought and perhaps won. The wind can change pretty quickly in politics, and if ObamaCare’s detractors allow liberals to seize the initiative in the next few days, they may spend the next few years regretting the way Democrats got control of the health care narrative. If the president and his backers are able to change the conversation from one about constitutional usurpation and big government control of health care back to their favorite themes of the plight of the uninsured, rapacious insurance companies, it could not only affect the outcome of the presidential election but also set the stage for future debates on the issue that may not go as well for the right.

It should be acknowledged that if the Court does strike down ObamaCare as a whole or even just the individual mandate that is at its core, it would be a signal victory for conservatives. Such a decision could mark a turning point in legal history, as for the first time in a century the expansion of government power via amorphous interpretations of the Commerce Clause would be halted. That will be an outcome worth celebrating for those who rightly fear the gradual erosion of individual liberty will accelerate as the government gives itself greater power over our lives.

But even a definitive ruling against the bill by the Court won’t end the political struggle about the ideas that led to this showdown. Conservatives have rightly touted the fact that a majority of the public has been against ObamaCare since before the then Democrat-controlled Congress passed it in 2010. But once the Court rules it dead, if indeed that is what will happen, then the existing game will be over and a new one will begin.

That will mean the president and the rest of the Democrats will immediately launch a campaign that will not only lambast the Court’s conservative majority for enabling evil insurance companies to go on harming people but also resurrect their previous rhetoric about the unhappy fate of the uninsured. While these ideas were overshadowed by the prospect of a national health care bureaucracy that most Americans rightly feared, once ObamaCare is history, the discussion will no longer be about government death panels. Instead, the national conversation could easily be turned back to the left’s evergreen Robin Hood guerrilla warfare on the health insurance industry.

That means that instead of whooping it up next week, conservatives need to come up with sensible free market solutions to health care that will eschew government mandates. This presents a particular challenge to Mitt Romney, who has his own health care mandate baggage and who may be required to present an alternative to what the president tried and failed to accomplish. Washington Times columnist Dr. Milton Wolf provides a good starting point for that debate with a piece explaining why car insurance works so much better than that for health care. But no matter what the details, the priority now for the right must be to forget the party hats and be prepared to hit back hard against the president next week. If they are too preoccupied with patting themselves on the back, they could lose control of the narrative on the issue and never get it back.

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