In ruling ObamaCare constitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court has handed President Obama a major victory. After months of bad news on the economy that has essentially turned his effort to gain re-election into a dead heat, this is a huge boost for his administration. But the grounds on which it has been validated is a poison pill that may come back to haunt him. The president and the Democrats claimed the expansion of government power was permitted by the Commerce Clause, but it survives only as a tax, something the president denied back in 2010 when he and the then Democrat-controlled Congress passed it.
Conservative legal scholars may console themselves about the fact that a Court majority placed some limits on the way the Commerce Clause could be interpreted. But the majority’s approval for it on the grounds the government’s power to tax citizens is virtually unlimited is actually a far graver blow to individual liberty than had it said the individual mandate was permitted under the power to regulate interstate commerce. The ruling has made plain what many said when the legislation was passed: ObamaCare is the biggest tax increase in history, and far from being limited to the wealthy, it applies to everyone across the board. As much as this is a victory for the president, it hands Republicans an issue with which they can flay him until November. The Tea Party movement is now routinely dismissed as yesterday’s news, but the Court may have just brought it back from the dead.
In essence, the Court rolls the election calendar back to 2010 when the GOP was able to mobilize the country against the vast expansion of government power being undertaken by the Obama administration. Now Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republicans can argue that while the Court ruled it constitutional, its passage was the result of a deception, and the net result is a tax hike for the entire country as well as granting the government an unprecedented expansion of power.
The health care debate now switches from speculation about what the Court would do to one about whether the voters are prepared to re-elect a president who has snuck through a massive tax on the middle class on a technicality. While the president will attempt to spin this issue as one of helping the uninsured, Republicans can go back to the arguments that gained them a midterm landslide two years ago. Repeal of ObamaCare is now not a sidebar to the failing economy but an integral part of the GOP argument that the Democrats have not only worsened the nation’s finances but will sink it even deeper in the coming years as the bill is finally implemented.
The Court has illustrated that the real choice in 2012 is between two visions about the power of the government and its ability to tax and spend, and the only limit on that power comes from the voters, not the Constitution. It remains to be seen whether the result will be the same as in 2010, but Republicans can certainly argue that if the people want to place limits on federal power it must elect a Congress and a president who will take the country in a different direction.