The Supreme Court surprised almost everyone Thursday by upholding President Obama’s signature piece of domestic legislation, the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. “Obamacare.” While the political fallout will be felt for the next five months, at least four things are immediately clear.
1.) The Tea Party Rises Again
During all of the GOP hand-wringing over whether Mitt Romney was acceptably conservative to the base, the Republican leadership fretted over their potentially unenthused voters in November. Primary voters that strongly identified with the Tea Party were particularly unhappy with Romney’s candidacy and tried hard to select anyone else. In fact, it was the passage of Obamacare that gave birth to the Tea Party movement two years ago.
Thursday’s decision ensures that these voters who chased after the non-Romneys from January through March are lukewarm no more. The fact that the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare immediately created a new sense of urgency to this election. If the court had struck down the controversial law, the GOP would not have been able to run on the notion that they alone could deliver us from the tyranny of “socialized medicine.”
Now that the law is indisputably constitutional, the Republicans can rightly claim that electing them in November is the final hope anyone has of stopping Obama’s health care reform. The law will be fully implemented in 2014, after which most people agree it would be almost impossible to turn back. Romney himself summed up today: “If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we have to get rid of President Obama.”
2.) Fundraising Just Got Even Easier for Romney
As if he needed any more money, Mitt Romney will be able to channel the anger over this ruling into campaign dollars. He already was beginning to out-raise Obama before Thursday’s events, but expect the money to start flowing even more easily.
In fact, according to Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul, he has already raised $2 million in the wake of Thursday’s decision.
3.) Re-Energized Democratic Base
While the very conservative wing of the GOP will fire up in response to this ruling, the Democratic base also might feel newly empowered.
During this election season, Democrats have trailed Republicans in expressing enthusiasm for their candidate. Just a few months ago, only 45% of Democrats said they were excited about voting for their candidate, compared with 53% of Republicans. There are a lot of reasons for the malaise, including the obviously weak economy and inflated expectations these voters had for Obama in 2008.
However, the very fact that the signature legislative achievement of Obama was in danger of being completely reversed, must have weighed on the minds of Democratic voters. Obamacare’s victory at the Supreme Court provides a shot in the arm to the Democratic base.
4.) A Newly Potent Narrative for Republicans
The most important part of the ruling today was the support Chief Justice John Roberts gave to the idea of an individual mandate. If the court had ruled that this core aspect of the legislation was unconstitutional, it would have been impossible for the entire bill to be implemented as designed.
Although conservatives are furious with Roberts for not throwing the whole law out, he did manage to throw them a bone in re-defining the “penalty” part of the individual mandate as a “tax.” While this might appear to be an insignificant semantic detail, the political narrative is clear. Now, Republicans can rightly claim that the Democrats are raising taxes on middle-class Americans to pay for Obamacare.
The president himself has been desperately trying to avoid calling the penalty a “tax.” The Roberts decision clarified that Congress indeed has the right to tax its citizens. Imposing a new tax on the uninsured does not amount to coercion. Republicans will be able to hold up this new “tax” as potentially unlimited. For a party that holds “no new taxes” as its gold standard, this re-definition of the word “penalty” makes Obamacare all the more detestable to Republicans.
The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.
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