Quite a few liberals in the media are urging calm in response to the Supreme Court's decision to revisit Obamacare. I've been pessimistic about the law's chances, but I'll grant that there may be a couple of rays of hope. However, this is not one of them:
The biggest political challenge facing the GOP is the fact that "repealing" or otherwise damaging the Affordable Care Act, while ideologically satisfying, carries with it some very real consequences. The states that opted not to create their own health exchanges -- the states that would lose their health insurance subsidies if SCOTUS rules against the government -- are mostly Republican-governed states. The sudden unavailability of those tax credits would mean that a lot of newly insured people in those states would no longer be able to afford their health coverage. They will expect their elected officials to do something to mitigate the damage, which would be catastrophic. Close to 5 million people across the country would see their health insurance costs spike.That's from Simon Maloy at Salon. The New Republic's Brian Beutler echoes Maloy:
That would pose an awkward situation for Republicans in the statehouses and Congress: Do they stick to their ideologically acceptable rigid opposition to Obamacare, or do they work to fix the law?
As much as Obamacare supporters want this challenge to fail, conservatives recognize that the aftermath of an adverse ruling would put the right in a really challenging spot. Democrats would have an easy answer to the chaos unleashed, and if Republicans stood in the way, they would bear the consequences. The politics would in many ways resemble the politics of government shutdowns. You don't win fights by saying, "I'll only fund the government if the President agrees to X, Y, Z." By the same token, I don't think Republicans would be able to withstand the blowback from constituents and industry stakeholders by saying they'll only reinstate the subsidies under severe conditions. The right’s leverage would be illusory.Here's why I don't buy this.
Consider voting rights in red states. We know that the voters disenfranchised by voter ID laws are disproportionately members of Democratic-leaning voting blocs. However, we also know that they can't all be Democrats. It isn't just non-whites who are so poor that they can't afford to drive, and thus don't keep their driver's licenses up to date -- plenty of whites are in that situation as well, and I imagine a lot of them are conservative. Also, conservatives as well as liberals become housebound, and thus unable to obtain proper identification, as they grow old.
Have you noticed that Republicans don't care? Have you noticed that no groundswell of outrage seriously threatens these state laws, even when we learn that elderly white military veterans are being denied the right to vote?
The GOP doesn't fear popular uprisings. The GOP just saw the vast majority of its candidates elected or reelected handily, despite anger at its policies in Kansas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and other states. The GOP feels bulletproof right now -- with good reason.
I even have doubts about the argument that the Supreme Court will back off in order to spare big business. Yes, I think repeal of Obamacare, by either the High Court or Congress, would be unsettling for large, influential industries. Normally, I'd expect the Roberts Court to defer to these industries. However, the GOP is all in on repeal -- if the party has majorities in both houses of Congress after 2016 (which is quite likely) and wins the presidency (which is more likely than a lot of people think), repeal will have to happen. The party can't back down after all these years of angry rhetoric. So if that's inevitable in 2017 in the event of a 2016 GOP sweep, then Republicans clearly believe they can handle any anger from Big Medicine. So why not a Supreme Court repeal now?
There's one reason I think the Court might save the law: because it's a motivator for Republican voters going into 2016. But that didn't work in 2012 -- I'm convinced that that's the principal reason Roberts saved it the first time -- so I'm not optimistic now. But we'll see.