In the wake of the Supreme Court’s hearings on the constitutionality of ObamaCare this week, speculation is now rife about the impact of a defeat for the president’s signature legislative achievement. Arguments are being marshaled that claim an overturning of the legislation will help the Republicans, while others insist it will rally the Democrats. That all of this is a bit premature is a given. No matter how the question and answer session with the justices went, we still don’t know for sure how they will vote. But even if we are to assume, as panicky liberals and triumphant conservatives are saying today, that the bill is headed to the dustbin of history, the ultimate impact of such a decision can only be guessed at.
The issue can help and hurt both the Republicans and the Democrats. Each party has something to gain and something to lose from the outcome. Nevertheless, the two main points to be derived from a defeat is that it will diminish President Obama and get Mitt Romney off the hook for his own Massachusetts health care bill. Seen in that light, if the judges vote the way so many people seem to think they will, the decision may well be a harbinger of defeat in November for the president.
There is a good deal of merit to the point of view that a defeat will energize Democrats. If there is a narrow 5-4 conservative majority against ObamaCare, it will allow the president and his party to go on the offensive against the GOP rather than having to play defense, as they would have, as their opponents pointed out the cost and the shortcomings of their healthcare regime. Railing against the conservatives on the court would, along with the Democrats’ Mediscare tactics in which they will try to demonize Rep. Paul Ryan’s efforts to reform entitlements, be part of a holistic strategy which would try to portray the election as a battle between the forces of GOP greed and Democrats resolved to soak the rich.
It should also be conceded that striking down the bill would remove the one issue that was the impetus of the Republicans’ historic midterm victory in 2010. Without ObamaCare to kick around, some of the steam comes out of a Tea Party movement that had already begun to diminish during last summer’s debt-ceiling crisis.
But the defeat of ObamaCare would also remove the main item on the president’s already small list of achievements. While it is already clear Obama cannot run on his record, the defeat of ObamaCare would remind the electorate he had shoved it down the throats of an unwilling public despite widespread concerns about its legitimacy. Though the president wants the election to be about what he considers the radicalism of his opponents, a Supreme Court defeat for his health care plan would effectively put that label on him rather than the GOP. While he had hoped his election would signal a revival for liberalism, the end to the centerpiece of the left’s wish list will make clear America is not “evolving” toward European-style social democracy.
The defeat of ObamaCare would also free up Romney from the burden of trying to prove why his bill was not the spiritual father of Obama’s. That would help him with the GOP base as well as give him space to concentrate on his economic expertise and to flay the president’s record on employment.
If one adds up all these factors, it is difficult to understand how a defeat for ObamaCare would not be a problem for Obama. On the other hand, should the court somehow defy current expectations, there is just as little doubt that it would be a major boost for the president.
Thus, while the court will not by any stretch of the imagination decide the November election, a lot is on the line for both parties. Just as the resolution of the dispute about Obamacare’s constitutionality will have an enormous impact on the power of the government to intervene in the economy, it will also play a not insignificant role in deciding who sits in the White House next year.