Some quick thoughts on the SCOTUS Obamacare decision…
As anyone with access to the internet, cable TV or radio knows, the Supreme Court announced this morning that it is upholding Obamacare. As I write this, the opinions themselves have yet to made public. When they are, it is my hope that Burt and Mark will weigh in on their thoughts on both the language used and what that language might mean for future cases.
Now that Obamacare is, indeed, the Law of the Land, I’d like to zoom out of the mandate-related minutia and comment briefly on what I’d wish our country’s focus and takeaways might be post-SCOTUS:
1. We Still Need the Rest of the Plan. Lost in the shuffle of the partisan bickering these past two years is the simple but undeniable fact that Obamacare, as it stands, is but a temporary reprieve from disaster. True, it will provide health insurance for those that could no longer afford it – and that’s a good thing. Further, it fixes a broken mechanism inherent in our system – we financially reward those that are young and healthy when they wait until they are neither to pitch into a system they themselves need – by requiring everyone to be insured. However, it ignores the underlying problem that lead to the crisis in the first place: exponentially increasing healthcare costs.
Having a mandate will mean substantially more people will be in the system, which should reduce premium per individual substantially. I suspect that the first year or two this benefit will be diluted as those who have been financially unable to seek healthcare “catch up” with various treatments; but after that there should be a substantial reduction. However, since the new system still does not address the exponentially growing costs we’ll be back to square one soon enough. We haven’t avoided driving into the wall we were about to hit – we’ve put the car in reverse and backed up a few miles before we put our foot on the gas and race toward that wall again.
Now that the questions of the law’s legitimacy have been put to rest, we need to start having a very real conversation about what healthcare in this country should and shouldn’t be. The current mindset we cling to – that we should be allowed any and every kind of care regardless of cost, efficiency, or effectiveness, without being subjected to rising premiums – needs to be discarded. This means its time to stop with the “Death Panels!” hysteria. It’s time, in other words, for us to start acting like grownups about our own healthcare system. If we don’t, the new system will necessarily be made by fiat behind closed doors, without our input or knowledge.
2. This Has to be Bad News for Romney. Not being especially charismatic (even his base is pretty “meh…” on the guy) Romney needs Obama to fail pretty profoundly in order to win the November election. For all intents and purposes, the right has already shot its messaging wad here with independents and moderates. Three years of constantly shrieking incoherently that the President is a [insert your over-the-top charge in all-caps here] has become a dull white noise that no one who isn’t already drinking the Kool-Aid takes seriously anymore. The Republicans therefore have had two real chances to unseat Obama: The first is that the country would continue to slide into economic despair. Instead, it might well be in the worst place it could be for GOP messaging: the very well off have fully recovered and are making money hand over fist, and this has not translated into the working/middle classes feeling more secure. This combination will make it very difficult for a “Give Our Job Creator’s A Break!” message to resonate.
The other hope has been that their candidate might ride anti-Obamacare sentiment into the Oval Office. Unfortunately, however, Mitt Romney may be the single GOP pol that can’t use this strategy to his advantage. It will be difficult for him to loudly decry Obamacare as Evil and Socialist without drawing the obvious (and embarrassing) comparisons to Romneycare. He might be able to argue that the basic idea is a great one but that it’s better to have your governor do it than your president, and he may even be right about that. But that’s hardly the message that will make the villagers grab the torches and pitchforks and storm the castle. The obvious way for Romney to have his “Socialist!” cake and eat it too would have been for the Supreme Court to strike down the federal program with language that allowed Romney’s state program to stand unchallenged. Now that Obamacare is officially constitutional, Romney’s ability to take aim at the president on this front is severely diminished.
Barring a further economic collapse, Mitt may now have to rely on his charm – in which case he’s cooked.
3. To Conservatives: Shouting Something’s “Unconstitutional” Loudly Enough Doesn’t Actually Make It So. The Republican strategy surrounding Obamacare to date has been to shout loudly and long enough that it would never, ever survive a court ruling, provided conservative appointed judges were part of that court. If Republicans could just convince enough people that this was the case, they seem to have reasoned, they would surely win their day in court. Except they didn’t; a conservative court has upheld Obamacare.
Think of what conservatives have squandered with this failed strategy.
They might have spent the past two years focusing on some of the policy problems with Obamacare (hint: it doesn’t control costs!). They might have put together a comprehensive competing vision to Obamacare, or they might have come up with legislation that allowed Obamacare’s popular mechanisms to survive while making it more efficient, effective or fiscally restrained. They might have, in other words, done their jobs. We have a tendency to forget this in our bloggy, talk radio, 24-hour news radio world, but the job description of a legislator isn’t actually getting their team elected over and over – it’s getting shit done. The Republicans, in the case of Obamacare, have taken an actual existing crisis of our healthcare system and used it (along with, I’m guessing, billions of dollars) to create what is now a failed public relations campaign. My hope is that now we’ll see the House and Senate GOP members focus on the problems on the table, and not on which spin will get them more time on FOX.
(I am not holding my breath.)
4. To Liberals: Show Some Freaking Backbone. My son is a huge New England Patriots fan. When they’re playing a big game he’s worried they may not win, he’ll sometimes bet a friend $5 against New England. His reasoning is simple: If the Pats win, he doesn’t mind losing the bet. If they lose, hey, at least he gets $5 to help console him in his wretched grief. This is the exact strategy I have seen with liberals over the past few weeks as they anticipated the SCOTUS ruling. Faced with what seemed to them to be the very real possibility that the mandate might be overturned (and the Democrats embarrassed), they went into preemptive scorched-Earth mode:
The Supreme Court is absolutely, positively ruling against us! Because the system’s broken! And corrupt beyond repair! And Evil! We should begin dismantling our entire democratic system of checks and balances right now!
The strategy seems to have been convincing the faithful that, because they were going to lose this one thing in court, the coming decision and the SCOTUS itself was somehow invalid. I wonder how they’re feeling about that same system this morning. Seriously, liberals, you need to stop panicking about anything and everything at the drop of a hat. I’ve felt like Louis CK all week as I’ve been reading liberal blogs: “Give it a second, would ya? Could ya give it a second?”
It’s stuff like this pre-SCOTUS abandon-ship panic that, despite my antipathy for the right, still makes me hesitate before penciling in the bubble by Democratic candidates on my ballots.