There's a big debate going on in GOP circles right now over what to do when the U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care of 2010 or, as you know it, Obamacare.
Most analysts expect the court will render its decision in two, perhaps three weeks. Many expect the individual mandate to purchase some form of health insurance to be found unconstitutional. Others think the court may go further, tossing out the whole law.
Either way, this would be a tremendous defeat for Obama. Those who expect the court to rule in his favor are few, far between, and, like former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, partisans with a limited understanding of constitutional law.
The Republicans need to have a game plan for moving forward—at least through the end of the year—that does not allow the White House and its allies to turn the GOP's victory into a stunning defeat. Most importantly, they need to avoid making the same mistakes that the Obama administration made in ramming the bill through Congress in the first place. Remember, the bill was drafted in secret, was kept moving through a series of backroom deals to buy votes—first in the House and then in the Senate, and enacted before anyone knew what was in it. Pelosi may have been revealing more than she intended when she said during the debate that the bill would have to pass in order for people to know what was in it. And, all along, the Democrats in Congress cut the GOP out of the process.
Obamacare is, therefore, the Democrats' to own—lock, stock, and barrel. If the court declares it unconstitutional it is their responsibility to come up with ways to fix it. The GOP-controlled House has already voted once to repeal and should do so again. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada should allow the Senate to vote on repeal as well, but he and his fellow Democrats have kept repeal off the calendar. Republican senators should go to the floor to demand the opportunity to do so.
Moreover, the GOP leadership should commit to working with the administration to develop a plan for an orderly transition, so that those few Americans who are now insured because Obamacare became law don't suddenly find themselves without coverage once again. When it comes to the larger issue of how and with what to replace Obamacare, however, the Republicans should proceed with caution. It would be a mistake for them to rush to the front of the line with a new plan. Obama owns the issue and Obama should be the one who explains what to do next.
The right answer, when asked about what to do next, is something on the order of, "I'm going to take a few days to review the Supreme Court's ruling but the responsibility for coming up with a new plan really belongs to the president. This was his initiative, his signature accomplishment, and he really is the one who has to tell the country what he would like to see done now that the court has made it necessary to change the law."
If the GOP goes first, all that will happen is an all out assault on whatever they propose by the president and his allies. They will pick any Republican proposal apart, hoping it will help drive Obama Democrats to the polls on Election Day, just as they believe it did in 2008. They believe this is going to be a base election, one in which each side will only be able to turn out its strongest supporters. In fact, this will probably be a genuine national election, one in which occasional voters and self-described independents and moderates turn out in large numbers. In no small part because of the way he and his supporters managed the bill the first time it is incumbent on them to tell the country what they plan to do after the court issues its ruling, and they should be given the opportunity to do it before anyone else is asked to put a plan on the table.