The big news today is the ruling on Obamacare. While I am not a constitutional lawyer, the ruling seemed to be fundamentally sound. First, it does seem accurate to say that the commerce clause does not explicitly empower the federal government to compel citizens to buy commercial products. As such, this view is in accord with a narrow interpretation. Second, it also seems accurate to say that the constitution provides congress with broad powers of taxation. The health care tax seems to be comparable to Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid taxes and they set a clear precedent for the ruling.
Interestingly, this ruling is also a victory for conservative principles. First, it validates Mitt Romney’s plan in Massachusetts as well as what his position was on health care until he changed his mind. Naturally, the fact that Obamacare is based significantly on Romneycare and Romney used to be for this approach does not prove that Romney is wrong now. That inference would be fallacious. However, all the arguments that Romney gave in favor of his earlier view still stand on their own merits. As do the reasons that he gives now against his previous view and the view of Obama. Second, it validates the constitutionality of the individual mandate which is not only the product of a conservative think tank but is also a conservative principle. After all, this mandate addresses the current free rider problem that I discussed in an earlier post on this mandate. It is, of course, ironic that the Republicans are dead set on going after the aspects of the law that have the best conservative foundations. But, politics does not seem to be about holding to a consistent set of principles but rather about saying the other guy is wrong in what he says, even when one used to say the same thing and even gave the other guy the idea.
Obviously, this ruling is not a defeat for Obama. However, it is not a complete victory and the Republicans have the material they need to fuel some serious political rhetoric. First, the ruling makes it clear that it is about the constitutionality of the law and not its wisdom. On one hand, this can be seen as a case of explicit neutrality. However, it can also be seen as innuendo. After all, the assumption is that the court just rules on the constitutionality of laws and to pointedly say that the ruling is not on the wisdom of the law can be taken as implying that the law is unwise. The Republicans should be able to milk those remarks for some small political points. Second, the ruling makes it clear that the mandate is grounded by the power of congress to tax. As such, the health care law adds a new tax and potentially increases taxes (for people who chose to be potential free-riders on the system by not having insurance). This can be a rhetorical silver mine for the Republicans-they can push the line that Obama went against his promise not to raise taxes on the middle class (while steering clear of the idea that the taxes are to help offset the cost of medical care for the uninsured) and they can hammer away at the whole tax thing, which should be music to the ears of the Tea Party folks.
While condemning Obama for spending so much time of health care, Romney says that his first act as president would be to get Obamacare repealed. This indicates that he thinks it is a matter of top priority. Of course, he can counter by saying that he has to get rid of Obamacare to save the economy. Whether that would work or not is rather an open question.
One rather obvious question is this: what would the Republicans and Romney offer in place of Obamacare? At this point, we have a great deal of vague and empty rhetoric and little in the way of specifics. This is not surprising. After all, Romney has repudiated his long-time views on health care and the conservative idea of the mandate has been bashed. As such, the Republicans and Romney need to start from scratch and that takes time.
I must admit that I have not read the entire act and I do not know what impact it will have. I do, of course, have concerns that it will have unintended negative consequences and I do believe that there are fundamental problems in health care that the law does not seem to address. I do think that we all agree that health care needs fixing. Unfortunately, we also seem to agree that the other guy is always wrong and hence there can be no meaningful compromise.