The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today to uphold health care reform is a huge political victory for President Obama, a stunning rebuke to Obama-hating conservatives, and an embarrassing blow to Mitt Romney (who had been readying a noon speech about how the presumed thumbs-down verdict exposed Obama as a failure). But let’s not forget what this ruling is really all about.It’s about the 33 million Americans who have gone without health coverage. It’s about the 17 million kids with pre-existing health conditions. They’re the big winners here, and it’s a credit to Chief Justice John Roberts that he didn’t want to leave those people high and dry. Nor, frankly, did Roberts want to go down in history as a partisan hack in lockstep with the Republicans who for decades have done squat on the issue of health care reform.
On the merits, the insurance-purchase mandate (originally championed way back in 1989 by the conservative Heritage Foundation; and ballyhooed by Romney in 2006) was always a constitutional slam dunk. As I’ve noted here repeatedly over the past year, a number of conservative federal judges have ruled it constitutional. Roberts wisely saw fit to concur, in part because the chief justice wanted to send a non partisan message to the nation.
Roberts basically wrote that the government has the right to penalize Americans who refuse to buy health coverage, because the (modest) penalty is akin to a tax – and, under the Constitution, the government has the right to tax. The health reform law, he wrote, “makes going without insurance just another thing the government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income. And if the mandate is in effect just a tax hike on certain taxpayers who do not have health insurance, it may be within Congress’s constitutional power to tax….The question is not whether that is the most natural interpretation of the mandate, but only whether it is a ‘fairly possible’ one.” Indeed, he said, “every reasonable construction” of a law “must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality.” (Does it sound like he was looking for a valid reason to join the court majority? Yup.)
On the political front, Obama can now scrap whatever plans he may have had to run against the Supreme Court this autumn; the ruling gives him the bipartisan imprimatur he could never get from the Republican obstructionists in Capitol Hill. As for Romney, the only elected executive in American history (besides Obama) to champion a health coverage mandate, he does have a Plan B. Now he’ll run this fall against the health reform law (although it’s not a top-tier issue), and he’ll likely ratchet up the rhetoric about how he’ll supposedly “repeal and replace” it “on day one.” (With what, he naturally won’t say.)All told, the ruling today is a celebratory moment for the uninsured and the ill-insured, and a reaffirmation of the historic progress that has finally been achieved on their behalf. And I doubt they’d agree with Rick Santorum, who tweets that the Roberts-led ruling is “a major setback for freedom.” Or with that noted constititional scholar, Sarah Palin, who declares that, as of today, “freedom dies.”
But maybe the quote of the day is this delicious item, drawn from Romney’s campaign website: “As president, Mitt will nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts.”
Addendum: My apologies for initially posting my early draft, and not my final draft. I hit the wrong button. The final draft, with various tweaks, is up now.
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