Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Health of the Nation

Years from now, will you remember where you were and what you were doing when the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Affordable Care case? It was that important and it seemed as though just about everybody was following it like a World Series game. Participatory democracy gets no better than that.

Of course there were the obvious glitches, such as CNN and FOX getting the story wrong at first. You'd think that after waiting three months for the decision, they could have waited an extra 3 minutes for their experts to parse the details. Then there's the story that talks about a "jaw-dropping switch," meaning Chief Justice John Robert's joining the four liberals on the court to uphold the law. This completely unexpected move is only unexpected if you happened to buy into the narrative that the law, or at least the mandate, was toast because, well, the media and the Intrade market said it was.

Even better was the comeuppance of the ultra-smug conservative media that was absolutely sure that they had this case sewn up as soon as Don Verilli was done speaking. That he's been vindicated (need free registration to read this link) in both the health care and immigration cases speaks volumes about what people don't know about what passes muster in court arguments.

The big questions, though, are obviously political. In terms of policy, Obama has his base-energizing victory and a policy he now has to defend with gusto, something that's been missing since the bill was passed. Polls have shown that the mandate is still unpopular, but other aspects of the bill have support. It's time for the administration to start selling this hard and in earnest. More Americans will have health insurance, seniors will no longer have to tolerate the doughnut hole in their Medicare prescription coverage, and those with preexisting conditions will now be covered. Many changes have already taken effect. More states will also need to set up exchanges to help people find insurance.

As for Mitt Romney, he's already addressed the court's decision with a full-throated call for repeal, calling the law a violation of our freedoms and bad for the economy. His problem is that today the court also indirectly validated the Massachusetts health care law that Romney championed as governor. And remember that the mandate was originally a Republican idea meant to provide an alternative to the Clinton health care plan of the early '90. So for Mitt, this decision means that he has to run even harder against one of the signature accomplishments of his political career. The good news for him is that his base is also fired up because of today's decision. The bad news is that he's going to run against the whole law, even the parts that people like, and he doesn't have an alternative to the clear problem of the uninsured and the very sick except to say that the magic of the marketplace will cure their ills. That's a tough sell.

The other political issue is the election horse race. Obama's poll numbers have been improving for the past week, both nationally and in several swing states. There are some states that Obama needs to win that are now considered tossups, which is better news for Romney, but the trend is toward Obama. The Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls will give us some idea of the effect of today's ruling, so I'll check back in with that early next week, and I'll have a full polling report on July 6.

In the end, Barack Obama rolled a huge set of dice by asking the Supreme Court to rule on this issue in the middle of an election campaign, and he won a huge victory. He's also staked his positions on marriage equality and immigration reform for the children of illegals that speak to fairness and equality. Mitt Romney is now in a position where he has to disagree, and that puts him at odds with basic American values. June was always going to be a pivotal month. It has not let us down.

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