Obama May Have Been Better Off with Partial Strike Down of Healthcare
Obamacare crystallizes the president's "nanny state" approach to government and the economy
June 28, 2012
The historic nature of the Supreme Court decision notwithstanding, the electoral significance of the decision today will not rest on the legal arguments that occurred before the high court, but rather on the political and economic arguments in the court of public opinion from now until Election Day. On that score, I believe the near total legal and moral victory for the president means the Affordable Care Act, known as ObamaCare, remains a key issue in the campaign and that is likely a net negative for the president. Given his remarks about the politics of it following the decision, you can almost sense he understands it is not clear cut. A partial striking down of the law, in fact, might have taken an edge off the matter, given him the opportunity to move forward, and, more importantly, given greater confidence to markets and business owners looking at the cost of hiring new workers, thereby boosting confidence amidst the electorate prior to November 6. The Supreme Court upholding nearly all of the law means the uncertainly hangs over the economy.
While the Supreme Court victory gives the president some right to claim the constitutional assaults on Obamacare were specious, and perhaps some of the majority of Americans who today believe he took the wrong approach could be swayed, the court's logical twist makes that line slightly more difficult. The court did not accept the Obama team's argument as to why a key funding provision, the individual mandate, passed constitutional muster, the Commerce Clause, but came up with their own support, granting it under the government's power to tax. That gives the president another flank to defend. Having raised taxes and increased regulations in a difficult economy is not a great place to be headed into a close election against a well-funded opponent.
This is a central issue of the campaign today precisely because it is tied to economic leadership, more than to the important and emotional issue of healthcare coverage. For the president's detractors, it is the obvious marker of his core philosophy of greater government involvement, a larger nanny state, uninhibited spending, and the instincts that led him to "ram it through" when a more bipartisan alternative might have been possible. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi famously said we need to pass the bill so we could learn what was in it. The president didn't say that, but he has so far not been able to sell her approach to democratic government. If President Obama can encourage Americans to move on, he might be better off. But if former Gov. Mitt Romney succeeds in articulating why the law is central to the difference between the two, why it was an overreach, why it has hurt the recovery, and what he would replace it with, the decision today will have been a net political negative for President Obama.