The news is full of reports about President Obama's "victory" yesterday, a "yes-we-can moment" that was a "nearly complete validation" of his administration's signature piece of legislation. Politico is reporting that top White House advisers "seemed almost giddy at the prospect of congressional Republicans, incensed by the high court’s ruling, pursuing repeal efforts or other attacks on the law over the next weeks and months." But here are five reasons why the GOP should not hesitate to focus on the issue of healthcare reform going into the election.
Republicans have a blank slate with most voters. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be best remembered for saying, "We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it." The problem is that most Americans still don't know what is in the president's mammoth healthcare reform law. I'd bet that, if asked, most people would probably only be able to identify two provisions: that children can remain on parents' policies until age 26, and that insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. For the last three years, the White House has done a terrible job of communicating to the American people what the legislation does and why we need it. This gives Republicans a blank slate. They should keep explaining what the law will do: create a permanent European-style entitlement state.
Healthcare reform is an economic issue. That communications failure on the part of the White House also explains why there has been so much uncertainty among businesses—especially small businesses—when it comes to hiring new employees. According to the Wall Street Journal, the law's new rules run over 12,000 pages of the Federal Register and counting. No wonder businesses are holding off to see what happens. While the economy overall is a more important issue to most voters than healthcare, there is a connection between the two. If presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney's campaign has the courage to make healthcare reform a central campaign issue despite his own record in Massachusetts—and if he goes beyond simply repealing the law to provide an alternative proposal that lowers costs and relies on market forces—he'll have a broad mandate once he's elected.
The tax issue just got handed to the right. According to Gallup polling released last week, 78 percent of Americans are concerned with the high cost of healthcare, despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act started going into effect two years ago. This coming January, five of the 18 tax increases that are included in the Affordable Care Act are set to be implemented—including an increase in the hospital insurance portion of the payroll tax that every business pays. Now that the Supreme Court ruling defines the law's penalties as "taxes" that will hit Americans at all economic levels, it's reasonable to believe that costs will continue to go up. Republicans now can correctly portray the law as the largest tax increase in American history.
The ruling energizes the Catholic vote. The Supreme Court's decision also left in place the Health and Human Services mandate requiring employers to provide free coverage for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization, even when doing so violates deeply held religious beliefs. The contraception mandate has galvanized both Catholic leaders and lay people in parishes across swing states, and with litigation pending, this issue is not going away before Election Day. Catholic bishops are not backing down.
This could help Republicans win back the Senate. Don't forget that Scott Brown won his Senate seat in 2010 because of his opposition to healthcare reform, giving the GOP the 41st vote it needed on the Senate floor. And the original Tea Party rallies on the National Mall began in opposition to the "taxation without representation" contained in the president's healthcare bill, when he first proposed it in the summer of 2009. I can't imagine that too many Democratic Senate candidates—especially in swing states—will want to be defending the Affordable Care Act against their opponents.
A whopping 75 percent of registered voters told Gallup that the president's healthcare law passed in 2010 is extremely important to their vote this fall. As presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney said yesterday, "If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we're going to have to replace President Obama." Elections have consequences, and voters don't like the consequences of the last one. Republicans have a huge opportunity here.