Don Rose: Roberts' Poison Pill
Submitted by arlenegloria on Mon, 07/02/2012 - 13:56
Roberts' Poison Pill
by Don Rose
In purely political terms, Chief Justice John G. Roberts’s courageous and unexpected break with the Supreme Court’s four other conservatives handed a victory that eliminates a huge bump on his road to re-election. The president will not have to run defending his historic but unpopular Affordable Care Act with the additional burden of having it found unconstitutional—and having to devise a campaign against the court itself.
The Obamans can concentrate on selling the law’s virtues by citing the hundreds of thousands of people who have already benefited from certain highly popular provisions, including insurance coverage for children and others with pre-existing conditions and covering adults 26 and younger under their parents’ policies.
The decision, however, was not an unalloyed blessing because Roberts inserted a poison pill. He upheld the individual mandate—which requires everyone to purchase insurance or pay a penalty—as a form of taxation rather than simply and clearly constitutional under Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce.
The penalty, Roberts wrote in his decision, “…may reasonably be characterized as a tax,” noting that such a tax is constitutional, adding, “…it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”
Intentional or not, branding it a tax arms the Republicans with a powerful rhetorical weapon against a president who pledged not to raise taxes on the middle class. Obama is estimated to have lowered overall taxes by almost a trillion dollars cumulatively, though not by cutting income taxes the way Reagan and G. W. Bush did. He is arguably the biggest tax-cutter in history.
Roberts’s ruling, however, puts a potent new arrow in the quiver of Obama’s opponents. The president is far better off having the ACA upheld, but the campaign to paint him as a big taxer has already begun—and will hurt him and his congressional allies running for re-election.
But the damage is not likely to be fatal. The great saving grace is that Mitt Romney, no matter how much he dodges, twists and outright lies about it, not only enacted a prototype for the ACA while governor of Massachusetts, but is also on record saying his law is a model for the entire nation.
On the upside, the Obamans have four months to make their case, during which time more and more people will benefit from the act. Furthermore, every day devoted to the health care debate rather than the economy detracts from Romney’s strongest selling point.
Personally, I wanted a single-payer plan or, minimally, a public option, but this is the best we got. Socialism? It’s a windfall for the insurance industry!
I also wish it had been sold as health-insurance reform rather than health “care,” because the public would prefer government to be its insurer, as in Social Security and Medicare, rather than its “doctor.”
Still, I can’t wait until that first presidential debate when Obama might well open by announcing, “First off, I want to thank Governor Romney for providing me and the nation the model and inspiration for the landmark Affordable Care Act.”
Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Reporter, where this Column first appeared.