IT IS SO ORDERED: What’s good for the sovereign state of Massachusetts is good for the United States of America.
Today, two years, three months and five days after the signing into law of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a stunning 5-4 decision, upheld the law and its controversial individual mandate as constitutional.
“The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax,” reads the majority opinion. “Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”
“Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will become secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it,” the president said today in the East Room of the White House, where he signed the bill into law in 2010.
Some of the provisions already in force should pick up steam: free preventive care; restrictions on coverage cancellation; discounts for seniors’ prescription drugs; no more denial of children with pre-existing conditions. When the law goes fully online in 2014, at least 30 million uninsured Americans would have joined the 260 million Americans the Census Bureau says now have health insurance.
What the late Sen. Ted Kennedy called “the great unfinished business of our society” is greatly advanced, the ball moved further down the field toward universal health care than at any time since Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt.
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Predictably, conservatives went apeshit. “This was an activist court that you saw today,” Tea Party favorite Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann told reporters. “Any time the Supreme Court renders something constitutional that is clearly unconstitutional, that undermines the credibility of the Supreme Court. I do believe the court's credibility was undermined severely today,” she said, as reported by The Huffington Post.
Right-wing radio Doberman and former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast Rush Limbaugh went apoplectic, as only Rushbo can. “Our freedom of choice just met its death panel: the Supreme Court of the United States,” Limbaugh said today.
“What has been upheld here is fraud, and the Internal Revenue Service has just become Barack Obama’s domestic army,” he said, “We were deceived. ‘Obamacare’ was a lie. It was a stealth tax on all Americans, and nobody knew it until today. Not officially.”
“Between the Arizona and Obamacare decisions, America is a very different concept than it was just a week ago,” Limbaugh said, according to a transcript of today’s program.
“So now we look forward to November.”
(No word on whether Limbaugh's revived plans to repair to Costa Rica.)
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Mitt Romney’s no doubt looking forward to November. The presumptive Republican nominee and the man most singularly responsible for the antecedent to Obamacare went before the cameras today to offer his reaction.
“I disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision and I agree with the dissent,” Romney said. “What the court did not do on its last day in session I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States, and that is, I will act to repeal Obamacare.”
What a difference six years makes. A video from a March 2006 press conference shows Mitt Romney was feeling … a little differently about another health-care program. His very own.
“With regards to the mandate, the individual responsibility program which I proposed, I was very pleased to see that the compromise from the two houses includes the personal responsibility principle, that is essential for bringing health care costs down for everyone, and for getting everybody the health insurance they deserve and need,” he said then. “So I was very pleased with that development.”
That health-care hosannah, of course, was followed a month later — on April 12, 2006 — by Governor Mitt Romney signing the Massachusetts health-care bill, known as Commonwealth Care into law, making the Bay State the first in the nation to require all residents obtain health insurance.
Facts are stubborn things. So are history and irony.
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DESPITE his dudgeon today, despite his steely vows to overturn the Affordable Care Act, Romney needs to leave this issue alone for two good reasons. First, because it thoroughly sidetracks the Romney campaign juggernaut from its long-term focus on jobs and the economy as the big concerns for the American people.
Second ... there’s just no good place for him to go on this thing. The national law that’s now constitutionally vetted and settled bears his fingerprints, has his gubernatorial DNA baked into it, as a national variation of the Commonwealth Care bill he signed into law more than six years ago.
He may go all pretzel logic, ginning up some quickie conflation of the jobs issue and the health-care issue. There’s some commonality there, but in Romney’s hands, any attempt to rhetorically hybridize the two will be embarrassingly transparent, and likely not well thought through.
“Mitt Romney's history with health care reform is a signal to conservative Republicans that he's a person not to be trusted,” Democratic strategist Geoff Garin told NPR in March.
Should Romney shift focus from Jobs Jobs Jobs and try to re-concentrate the national debate — and his own campaign — on vilifying a health-care law he helped to create? Not really. From now until Election Day, he has every good reason to avoid this issue like a radioactive sample of the bubonic plague.
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For the president, the court’s ruling yields peripheral, perceptual benefits. Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times observed one of them:
Not only does the SCOTUS decision scuttle the Republican meme of Obama as a well-intentioned bungler; the breakdown of the court’s support for the ACA also revealed what may be the biggest surprise of the day beyond the decision itself.
Chief Justice John Roberts, a long and reliable conservative voice from the bench (he was appointed by George W. Bush), wrote the majority opinion, voting in favor of the law and its individual mandate. He was the 5 in 5-4: In this decision, Roberts effectively filled the swing-justice role once occupied by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who dissented today.
The Chief Justice’s seeming apostasy indicates his willingness to break ranks with the court’s conservative mindset; Roberts’ stepping out on behalf of a Democratic president’s initiative potentially broadens the prospects for Obama’s re-election. Roberts’ stand for the law, defended necessarily on constitutional grounds, transcends party politics to advance what can only be described as a collective national matter of concern, regardless of your political persuasion.
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NOT THAT conservatives aren’t inclined to double down on party politics. Sarah Palin, the former nominal governor of Alaska and current grand harpy of the right, has tried to spin it her way. “Thank you, Scotus,” she said on Facebook. “This Obamacare ruling fires up the troops as America’s eyes are opened! Thank God. ... November is just around the corner. Today, the Supreme Court issued their ruling on Obamacare. In November, We the People will issue ours."
Others engaged in their own cognitive dissonance, their way to creating chicken salad out of chicken … something else. Steven Law, president of Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-powered SuperPAC, told the Times’ Zeleny that the decision “is actually a tremendous windfall because it reminds people viscerally about the law. It takes the centerpiece of it and declares it a massive tax on the middle class, and it will refocus people on the particular provisions of the bill that they don’t like and fear.”
The operative word there is the last one. Fear. That emotion’s been the operational dynamic for opponents of the law since before it was a law, and it probably won’t stop now.
It’s some kind of triumph, then, that the Supreme Court has at least briefly slowed its plutocratic drift (Citizens United is ample proof of that assertion) and today constitutionally vindicated the idea of health care — sure as hell not universal but certainly comprehensive — as a right for more Americans.
And hopefully, eventually, virtually all Americans — citizens who’d no doubt happily be rid of another kind of fear: the fear of being financially victimized by that pre-existing condition called mortality.
Image credits: President Obama: still from pool camera. Bachmann: NBC News. Roberts: Steve Petteway.