Health insurance law ruling will refocus fall campaign–away from the most important issues!

Let the predictable caterwauling begin: today the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, with Chief Justice John Roberts leading the majority on the 5-4 decision.

The heart of the disagreement over the law is its requirement that each of us Americans purchase health insurance, and the court has now ruled that the requirement does not violate the Constitution.

During oral arguments in March, conservative justices indicated they were skeptical about the individual mandate, the provision in the 2,700-page health-care law that requires nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a financial penalty.

Arguing the case for the Obama administration, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. defended the law as a constitutional exercise of congressional power under the charter’s commerce clause to regulate interstate commerce. He said lawmakers were regulating health insurance to deal with the problem of millions of people who lack coverage and therefore shift costs to the insured when they cannot pay for their medical care.

Paul D. Clement, representing Florida and 25 other states objecting to the health-care law, argued that Congress exceeded its power in passing the law, which he said compels people to buy a product.

The court rejected Obama administration’s commerce-clause argument, but ruled 5-4 that Congress nevertheless “has the power to impose” the individual mandate under its taxing authority. The provision “need not be read to do more than impose a tax,” the opinion said. “This is sufficient to sustain it.”

Neither the plaintiffs in the case nor the Obama administration had argued before the court that the individual mandate was a tax.

(In fact, that is the point made—the only point made—in the story I saw when I clicked on the lead headline on FoxNews.comthis afternoon.)

The decision means that implementation of the new law should proceed, with the aim to get health insurance coverage for tens of millions of currently uninsured Americans; these are the people who currently access the most expensive health care around through emergency rooms and charity care, medical care that those of us who pay taxes are already footing the bill for anyway.

So, that’s settled.  Or not.  Arguably, the real heart of the disagreement is that this is Obama’s plan, and people who had supported similar health care insurance law revisions in the past (like the conservative Heritage Foundation and many Republicans; like the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, W. Mitt Romney, Gov.) opposed this one because it was Obama’s plan.  People like Mitch McConnell, and others who have proudly and publicly asserted that they will do whatever is required to make Barack Obama a one-term president (for whatever reason).

The dissent in the case will only fuel their fire: it argues that the Obamacare mandate that individuals purchase a product—health insurance—and its threatened denial of some Medicaid funding to states for non-compliance both unconstitutionally exceed government authority, and that since those provisions are crucial to making the system work, the entire statute should be tossed out…hmm, not much room for compromise here, I guess.

It’s unfortunate that the divide on the court was (except for Roberts) by perceived political ideology—for many people that’s going to reinforce the idea that the justices make their decisions based on politics rather than the law, and that will reinforce the left/right division in politics.  But it could have been worse: as David Franklin from DePaul University’s College of Law argues in Slate, Roberts found a way to uphold ACA in order to save the integrity of the Supreme Court.

A 5-4 decision to strike down Obamacare along party lines, whatever its reasoning, would have been received by the general public as yet more proof that the court is merely an extension of the nation’s polarized politics. Add the fact that the legal challenges to the individual mandate were at best novel and at worst frivolous, and suddenly a one-vote takedown of the ACA looks like it might undermine the court’s very legitimacy.

And, of course, health care is now likely to become the distraction center for a presidential campaign that I’d hoped would hold its focus on employment and the federal budget.

(We don’t need to spend time discussing how, in their rush to be first with the news, CNN and Fox both got the story completely wrong, do we?  Fish in a barrel…)

Here’s a smattering of the early reports on the court ruling, for your edification and delight:

Hypocrite or Liar

For a lot of you those are the only choices available to characterize your U.S. representative for his/her vote yesterday on the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act.  I am not one of you (this time), but that doesn’t mean you can’t play the game.

The Republican Party majority in the House and Speaker John Boehner made it a top priority to vote on repeal of last year’s health care insurance reform.  They did it even though they know that the Democrats who control the Senate won’t bring it up for a vote there, and that even if the Senate voted for repeal the president would use his veto.  But they wanted to make a political point, get members on the record on this issue, and keep one promise in that Pledge to America many of them took last fall.  I don’t have an issue with any of that.

I do have an issue with a party that claims to be a champion of fiscal responsibility and deficit lowering voting for repeal after they all but covered their eyes and ears and refused to believe the Congressional Budget Office report which found that repeal would actually increase the deficit and leave more than 30 million more people without health insurance.  Boehner said CBO is entitled to its opinion!

If a CBO report is an opinion, it’s the considered opinion of the experts employed by Congress to provide lawmakers with numbers that are not influenced by political needs and desires…it’s the closest thing to a truly non-partisan statement you’ll find in Washington, D.C.  What’s more, a group of independent experts found that the Republican claim that the new health insurance law will kill jobs is not justified by the facts.  The GOP offered an analysis that claims the new law “may” make the nation’s fiscal situation worse; among others, economist Paul Krugman doesn’t think much of that report’s reasoning or logic.

OK, game time.  Here’s a list of how the members of the House voted on repeal of Obamacare; check to see if your rep, who campaigned as an agent of deficit reduction, got to Washington and started off by voting for a bill that would raise the deficit (if it ever became law, which it won’t).  Then you can  ask him/her what they hell they think they’re doing.