Should the Supreme Court strike down the 2010 health care law this month, among the biggest beneficiaries (if unexpectedly so) will be Members of Congress who voted for the law.
As one recent analysis of the 2010 election by Dartmouth political scientists showed, the health care overhaul was the principal reason Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives.
Besides giving its remaining Congressional backers a possible reprieve this November by putting voters in a less recriminative frame of mind, a Supreme Court torpedoing of the administration’s flagship social legislation could also help the president and his Congressional supporters on another issue, one where they need it most.
The law’s passage spooked American business. Major corporations took multimillion-dollar health care write-offs — AT&T’s was a cool billion — and the small companies that are responsible for 90 percent of new hires saw their health care costs rose by 20 percent to 40 percent.
So for big companies, the law’s overturning would mean much brighter balance sheets and a tonic for the stock market. Above all, it could restart small-business hiring, set off a mid-summer job boom and improve monthly employment numbers enough to make the administration’s claims of recovery look credible by November.
President Barack Obama and his allies are unlikely to appreciate the irony.
They were relentless in driving the initial push for the legislation, defying the most elementary and sensible political calculus. They ignored negative polls, dismissed go-slow warnings from Congressional Democrats, fought through public relations disasters over carve-outs such as “the Cornhusker kickback” and “ the Louisiana purchase,” and blithely ignored the shocking loss of the late Edward Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown. So too, the president and his strategists seemed to blow by the humiliating 2010 elections results.
All this suggests the administration can be expected to come up with a strategy that pushes as hard as ever for nationalized health care if the Supreme Court rules adversely. The president will no doubt reprise his precedent-shattering 2010 State of the Union attack on the court, even as he works to salvage through executive orders as much of the legislation as possible. He can also be expected to push for a more benign-sounding and cosmetically acceptable but massive expansion of Medicare that would still represent a sweeping new federal power grab.
Just this sort of boldness caught overhaul opponents off guard consistently, leaving them surprised and outmaneuvered. This seems likely to occur again because the current strategy of too many opponents seems confined to hoping for a favorable court decision.
That would be particularly unfortunate because the opportunity is at hand to put this issue front and center this fall, highlight an historic lesson in how government suffocates economic growth and finally kill off the idea of a nationalized health care system.
Public opposition has hardened and grown, with some polls showing more than 60 percent of the public opposing the individual mandate and 60 percent of doctors citing damage to patient care and their practice.
As a start toward a strategy, our own seniors association has written to the leadership of the anti-overhaul forces in the House and Senate and asked them to think through best-case and worst-case scenarios for a post- Supreme Court strategy:
• Should the court strike down the law, Members should immediately take to the floor and pass a resolution warning Obama not to repeat his earlier attack on the court. Then they should introduce the sort of market-based reforms that would establish barriers to any future attempts at nationalized health care. Tax incentives for doctors who care for the indigent would do much to eliminate the problem of the uninsured while strengthening the kind of private practice and medical entrepreneurship that government and big health care institutions discourage.
• If the court strikes down the individual mandate but leaves in place the rest of the law, both chambers should repeal or defund its remaining parts. Two good places to start would be the Independent Payment Advisory Board and the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.
• Finally, if the court keeps the law in place, then the House should do another repeal vote while opponents in the Senate should at least try to schedule one.
Inevitably, some in the media will criticize such moves as public relations exercises. The law’s opponents should embrace these charges, saying openly their goal is to see whether supporters will show the same suicidal solidarity this close to an election as they have in the past. A defection or two in the Senate could mean the full unraveling of the law, this time at the hands of Congress.
Even as they ready a strategy, activists should start explaining the possible economic results from an adverse Supreme Court decision. The law was a catastrophic distraction when the country needed to focus on its economic problems. Chronicling its deleterious impact on recovery will deny the administration credit for any economic upticks and condition the next battlefield in the economic recovery struggle — halting the massive federal tax increases scheduled for January.
Dan Weber is founder and president of the Association of Mature American Citizens.