Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Obamacare ruling is election wild card

The Affordable Care Act finally gets its day at the Supreme Court this week. Although it may be several weeks before the Court publishes its ruling on the case, it is a sure thing that, whatever the ruling is it has the potential to have an explosive impact on the elections in November.

There are four likely outcomes for the Supreme Court ruling. First, the Court could rule that challengers to the law have no standing to sue since they have not had to pay the fine for not purchasing health insurance. This would delay a decision on the law for two to three years until after it takes full effect. Most observers consider this unlikely. Next, the Court could uphold the law in its entirety. Conversely, the Court could strike down the entire law. Finally, the Court could throw out part of the law, the individual mandate for example, and allow the remainder to stand.

The ruling will have an uncertain effect on the election. Hints at how the voters will view the ruling can be gleaned from two recent polls. According to Rasmussen, likely voters have never favored the health law. Immediately after passage in 2010, repeal was favored by a margin of 55-42 percent. In the most recent poll, taken on March 17-18, repeal was favored by 56-39 percent. Within those numbers are 46 percent who strongly favor repeal versus only 29 percent who strongly oppose it.

In a USA Today/Gallup poll of adults, Americans were split 45-44 percent on the question of whether passage of the ACA was good or bad, but the same poll shows that 38 percent believe that the law will make things worse for their family. Only 24 percent believe it will make things better. A strong majority of 72 percent believe that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. Only 20 percent believe that the requirement to purchase health insurance or pay a fine is legal under the Constitution.

Since Americans overwhelmingly oppose the ACA, Republicans have the most to gain from the Supreme Court’s decision. A victory for the administration or a muddled outcome, such as a decline to rule on the law or striking it down only in part, seems likely to aid Republicans because of the large number of Americans who strongly oppose the law. If the Court leaves the law largely intact, Republican candidates who promise to repeal the law if elected will tap into that voter anger. Anger at Democratic spending and the expansion of government fueled a landslide Republican victory in 2010 and if the Supreme Court upholds the ACA it could fuel a similar result this November.

Democrats have little to gain electorally from a Supreme Court victory. If the law is upheld, it may keep President Obama’s legacy from being tarnished as it would have been if it was found unconstitutional, but Obamacare is still a fundamentally unpopular law that was enacted without the support of the people. A reform that was supposed to have kept health insurance costs down has instead contributed to their increase at twice the normal rate of growth according to Kaiser and the cost of the law, which was touted as a plan that would reduce the deficit, is now projected cost almost double the initial estimates. If the law goes into effect, people may well find that there is even less to like about it than was previously thought.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who is also an orthopedic surgeon, told Newsmax.com, “Both fiscally and for the sake of our health care system, Americans cannot afford the president’s healthcare law. The longer the president’s healthcare law remains on the books, the greater the threat it poses to our nation’s healthcare and our fiscal well-being.” He continued, “The CBO’s revised cost estimate indicates that this massive government intrusion into America’s health care system will be far more costly than was originally claimed. The law’s true cost to American taxpayers is part of a series of promises President Obama and Democrats in Congress made that will be broken.”

On the other hand, if the Supreme Court strikes down the law, it won’t necessarily help Republicans or hurt Democrats. A major source of contention will have been removed from the political landscape and voters who would have voted for Republicans because they opposed the ACA may move to other issues where they are more moderate. Similarly, the voters who favor the law, almost all of whom are probably Democratic voters anyway, are unlikely to be influenced by an unfavorable Supreme Court decision.

The biggest casualty of a decision sustaining Obamacare and the individual mandate would likely be the American people’s faith in government. Public opinion has been against the bill from the very beginning. Revelations of backroom deals like the “Cornhusker Compromise” and the “Louisiana Purchase” further hurt the law’s image even before it was passed. The abuse of parliamentary procedure to avoid a Republican filibuster further inflamed public opinion.

The United States has reached a point where trust in government is near 20-year lows. According to Gallup, only 19 percent trust the government most of the time. In a separate poll from Gallup last year, the federal government rated dead last in approval among a list of industries. The -46 percent net approval rating put the federal government at a historic low. Notably, respondents told Gallup that they rated state and local governments far higher than Congress or the president.

The Supreme Court is viewed more positively. Gallup’s approval rating for the Court is 46 percent versus 40 percent who disapprove. This can be compared to the approval rating for Congress at 12 percent. Sixty-three percent of Americans still trust the Supreme Court. However if the Supreme Court votes to uphold an unpopular law that was never wanted by a majority of the American people, a law that the majority of voters believes overwhelmingly to be unconstitutional, then the Supreme Court may face the same loss of trust and approval that the other branches of the federal government have experienced.

This is the great tragedy of the Obama era: that a president who once had the support and admiration of nearly all of the country, a president who pledged to eschew the “politics of cynicism” for the “politics of hope,” would become even more divisive than his predecessor; that a president who once preached the practicality of compromise and the need for national unity would use his position to short-circuit the democratic process, circumventing the will of the people and their elected representatives in Congress. The unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act and federal government itself is symbolic of the failure of President Obama to unite the people of the United States.

Originally published on Examiner.com:


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