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Monday, November 14, 2011

The impact of the Supreme Court on the 2012 elections


In big but expected news, the Supreme Court will take up the constitutionality of the individual mandate, and, in the event it is found unconstitutional, will then determine if the entirety of Obamacare must be struck down as well. As you know, the Affordable Care Act imposes a mandate that every US citizen must obtain health insurance by 2014 or face a fine. The Court's decision to hear the case in February/March, and levy a decision by June/July, meaning it will have a huge impact on the elections. How so?

If they uphold the law, Obama can rub it in Republican's faces, say "haha I was right and you were wrong", and tout it as his signature legislative accomplishment. He can also cite Republican efforts to repeal his law as further evidence of Republican "divisiveness" and placing "partisanship over what's best for the country", which will doubtlessly be a major campaign theme. Since the Supreme Court is (perhaps incorrectly) viewed as nonpartisan, a ruling in favor of Obamacare would portray Republican opposition as partisan quibbling, trying to simply stop Obama at all costs rather than moving forward. In order to get the bill repealed, Republicans would need to recapture both the White House and a majority in both houses to repeal the law before it is fully enacted by 2014. Doing that would be a steep challenge if their defeat is announced in June, stealing the publicity and excitement that usually accompanies the announcement of the Republican nominee.

However, if the court takes down the law, or  even just the individual mandate section of the law, Obama's in deep trouble. Firstly, regarding the law itself, the rest of the bill would have to be either repealed or drastically altered, reopening the whole healthcare reform issue but this time with a Republican majority in Congress. It is likely that nothing would get done on that before the election. This means that not only would Obama's signature accomplishment would be stripped from him, but his future plans would be derailed by the need to reopen that contentious issue and all the old wounds that accompany it. Republicans could then take up the mantle of advocating "TRUE healthcare reform", proposing both a plan for their future and attacking the presidents failures in one phrase. The issue of healthcare would cease to be a prominent feature on Obama's resume and instead be a liability that he must avoid talking about in debates. Even if he succeeded in drawing attention away from the defeat, what would be left for Obama to cite as his accomplishments? Mostly financial-oriented things: added regulations, the stimulus, the unpopular bailout, "rescuing us from the brink", etc. But with the economy in recession, that would likely fall on deaf ears. This is all speculation, but the point is not much is going well for America right now. The economy sucks. We're entangled in foreign wars. Illegal immigration is a problem. If the Healthcare bill falls through, the president will be saddled with another problem he's failed to fix in a constitutional matter, and that may just be the tipping point for him.

Republicans' should care that the individual mandate be repealed mostly to establish a real precedent limiting the governments power under the commerce clause. That is the most important implication long term, the sort of precedent professors will cite for generations afterwards. But in the short term benefits, a repeal of the ACA might just help them knock off Obama too.

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