You’re hearing a lot of crowing from conservatives today about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision upholding the Affordable Care Act.
They had been expecting it to go the other way, of course. But they put on a brave — and straight — face, and tried to argue that because SCOTUS has deemed that the individual mandate penalty is a constitutional “tax,” they can now campaign against it as an “ObamaCare tax increase.”
Don’t be fooled, though. The ruling is the worst possible outcome for putative GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s chances to win the White House in November. And the same can be said for Republicans in Congress.
Why? We’ll deal with the Romney question first.
The ACA is at the root a CONSERVATIVE health-care reform plan. It was devised by the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s and promoted by Newt Gingrich as the conservative alternative to (failed) health-care reform attempts in Clinton administration.
As soon as Clinton’s efforts failed, the conservatives more or less dropped the idea like a hot potato. But over the years the need for it increased. And this was keenly recognized by none other than Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
At the urging of Romney backer Thomas Stemberg (founder of Staples) Romney pushed universal health coverage in Massachusetts that was modeled after the Heritage Foundation plan. He signed the bill in 2006 that made that a reality. Bigwigs in the Heritage Foundation were on hand for the bill signing and gave it hearty applause.
The Affordable Care Act is modeled precisely after that bill. And as regular Richard J. Beason already has pointed out elsewhere on this blog, Romney consulted with Congress and the White House on how to broaden his plan to the whole country. Today, that’s called “ObamaCare.”
Its enactment was going to be a huge feather in Romney’s cap. It was going to make him the father of universal healthcare coverage in America. It seemed there would be no better resume item for a White House wannabe than that.
But then a few things went wrong.
One was the rise of the Tea Party. Though the name is new, the movement is not. It’s nothing more than a renewal of the John Birch Society 50 years later. Among other things, that crew wants to undo Social Security, Medicare and hard-fought civil rights laws. They want to turn back the clock on this country to the way things were before the Great Depression.
They HATED the ACA because it was the product of government. They lied and tried to call it “government-run healthcare” even though it’s actually a government mandate that people have private health insurance (along with added regulations on those private insurers). The Tea Party Birchers made up garbage about “death panels” and other things, too. No lie was too low to sink to in their criticism of it, no matter how bald-faced.
Another thing that went wrong was recognition by mainstream Republicans that Obama had “pulled a Clinton” by latching onto a conservative plan and winning enactment of it, and getting credit too. President Clinton’s success in such maneuvers infuriated Republicans in the 1990s; they vowed then never to let another Democratic president do something like that.
But Obama had done it with healthcare, and that meant the GOP reflexively had to oppose it, just for the sake of political posturing. The well-being of the country be damned.
This was a huge problem for Mitt Romney as he approached the crowded 2012 GOP presidential primaries. It meant he had to attack “ObamaCare,” which was based on “RomneyCare,” so he wouldn’t alienate the Republican Party’s activist wing. If Romney had failed to do that, he couldn’t have won the GOP nomination.
This was not a difficult move for Romney to make, of course. He has proven over and over again that there’s no position he won’t change to score a political victory (gay marriage, cap n trade, gun control, abortion rights, etc).
So how could Mitt Romney attack his own plan? He made the quite risky choice to base the attacks on the ACA’s constitutionality. He said it was OK for states to do what he did in Massachusetts, but against the U.S. constitution for the federal government to do the same thing. He said it right here in Salem on Tuesday — that he believed in “state’s rights” when it came to healthcare. (Bonus: the phrase doubled as southern racist code, too).
And then Romney crossed his fingers and hoped dearly that the Supreme Court would agree with that position. Which they did not.
This has left Romney with no logical and consistent argument against the Affordable Care Care, which is the law he gave birth to as Massachusetts governor. Which is why Thursday’s ruling was the worst possible outcome for him. He’s stuck in the position of trying to kill his own baby for no good reason.
It’s also a bad outcome for Republicans in Congress. Because while it’s true that “ObamaCare” is unpopular, that’s based on all the lies that have been told about it. The fact is, the bill’s key provisions are very popular. And the electorate is beginning to catch onto that, and to the truth.
So this summer, Romney will be launching a full-on assault against a constitutional law that — more than any other politician — he gifted to the nation.
And Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, will be trying to repeal health-care coverage for adult offspring through the age of 26 (on their parents’ health plans); a ban on health insurance denials for people with pre-existing conditions; and a ban on insurance company caps on lifetime health coverage.
All of these key planks of the ACA are overwhelmingly popular.
Those are the reasons today’s ruling was the worst possible outcome, both for Romney and the GOP.