This week Americans will be glued to their seats for a minute by minute breakdown of the Supreme Court hearings on Obamacare.
Sports will be ignored, pets will be found rolling empty bowls on the floor, junior high science project volcanos will be left unfinished as every single man and woman who has ever cared about healthcare will pore through the minutea of the detailed challenge of the law and the impassioned defense of the law. Well, at least in theory right?
I mean, don’t Americans really care about this whole case and healthcare law in general? The truth is, while just under half of Americans are not in favor of Obama’s healthcare reform law the policy is only a galvanizing force for Republicans and conservatives. Most other folks aren’t interested in the law, only the eventual political fallout.
Since the first days of questioning has more or less demonstrated that the court is not going to punt on the law until after the election, the real question now is what impact will the ruling have on the election. Depending on how the Supreme Court rules and when, the political consequences for Barack Obama’s re-election bid, as well as the fate of (eventually) Mitt Romney and members of Congress, may actually hang in the balance. Here’s a quick break-down of what SCOTUS rulings would make each side happiest.
Politico has a very detailed explanation of the several different types of rulings that the Supreme Court could have on the healthcare bill and they’re worth noting because each one provides either Obama or the Republicans with more or less incentive to do the victory dance. There are three basic ways the court can rule:
1.) Strike Down the Entire Law
2.) Get rid of the individual mandate
3.) Keep the entire law as currently written.
There are nuances within each of these rulings but these are the basic results. How they play out politically is another question.
Best Case Scenario for Republicans: I know this will sound counter intuitive, but the best case scenario for Republicans is to have the Supreme Court keep the entire law as is.
All you have to do is listen to the sage advice of Rick Santorum. Santorum has consistently pointed to anger over the Obama Healthcare bill as one of the key motivators to GOP turnout in the 2010 mid-term elections. (He usually mentions this as way to point out that Romney’s Massachussets healthcare bill prevents him from tapping into that anger). If the entire bill is overturned then what does the GOP have to run on for their base? If the entire bill is found constitutional, then Republican Congressional candidates and the GOP nominee can gin up their supporters by saying once in office they will dismantle the bill piece by piece. This is a powerful argument not just for a Republican presidential nominee but for a Congressional candidate as well. If the Supreme Court does that job for them in July you’re stuck hoping the economy is bad enough to get Obama out of office and that’s a risky strategy.
Worst Case Scenario for Republicans: If the Supreme Court ends the individual mandate, but retains other parts of the law this is about the worst thing that could happen to the Republican party heading into the fall.
While the court ending the most onerous part of the legislation would be good, if the rest of the law stays in place you end up with competing narratives. The Republicans will claim victory over the mandate, and the Democrats will claim victory since the bulk of the bill remains intact. The voters’ main issue with the bill has always been the individual mandate. If that is gone public opinion towards the overhaul might tilt more positive, thus giving Obama another major policy victory.
Best Case Scenario for Obama: The Best case scenario for the Obama administration is for the entire bill to remain as is, for several reasons. First, it will allow Obama to claim that the issue is over, and that he won the battle.
No one thinks the Supreme Court is liberal, and thus grudgingly after a ruling in his favor, healthcare reform will cease to be a subject of debate and more a staid reality to voters. More importantly, Obama can contrast the GOP’s hostility towards the bill with the perceived objectivity of the Court. The bill will remain unpopular for many, but the Supreme Court, which is influenced by public opinion, will have given him a decisive victory.
Worst Case Scenario for Obama: Isn’t it fairly obvious by now? If the Supreme Court eliminates the entire healthcare low from top to bottom that is about as serious a blow to the president as possible. The language of any majority ruling throwing out the entire law would certainly have some stern words about presidential and congressional overreach which would make their way into some damaging campaign commercials. Plus a massive rejection would play into an even more frightening narrative about Obama that between losing our AAA credit rating, running up the debt and getting slapped by the Supreme Court that he has accomplished a trifecta of incompetence in one term that even George Bush couldn’t match.
Would this cost him the presidential election? Possibly – but it would depend on when the ruling came out and the economy. Still, in this nightmare scenario Obama would have a hard time explaining why the linchpin of his first term got thrown out.
It is still not clear when the Court will finally rule on “Obamacare” or how they will rule. It strikes me as unlikely that the Obama administration would push through policy and then hope on a wing and prayer that it wouldn’t be challenged in the courts. Then again, the Bush administration began torturing people and hoped that would pass judicial muster, as well. Regardless, by August both sides will have their spin doctors ready to paint whatever ruling that comes out as a political victory.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.