Thursday, March 28, 2013


When the Supreme Court upheld the Obama health care law, a lot of liberals concluded that John Roberts had done a courageous and honorable thing. I disagreed. I assumed that he didn't want a 5-4 decision to overturn the law because he thought that would motivate Democratic voters, while diminishing Republican voters' motivation to show up at the polls. I thought the decision to declare the individual mandate unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause and then OK it as a tax was meant to fire up the GOP base: Look, this is a huge tax. TAX TAX TAX.

The decision didn't help the GOP at the polls, of course -- but I still think Roberts was playing the angles that way. And now Chris Frates of The Atlantic writes about Mitch McConnell's secret plan" to repeal the health care law -- and I can't help suspecting that Roberts knew precisely the kind of groundwork he was laying:
A few minutes after the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision upholding President Obama's health-care law last summer, a senior adviser to Mitch McConnell walked into the Senate Republican leader's office to gauge his reaction....

Sitting at his desk a stone's throw from the Senate chamber, McConnell turned to the aide and, with characteristic directness, said: "This decision is too cute. But I think we got something with this tax issue."

He was referring to the court's ruling that the heart of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the so-called individual mandate that requires everyone in the country to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, was a tax. And while McConnell thought calling the mandate a tax was "a rather creative way" to uphold the law, it also opened a new front in his battle to repeal it.

McConnell, a master of byzantine Senate procedure, immediately realized that, as a tax, the individual mandate would be subject to the budget reconciliation process, which exempted it from the filibuster. In other words, McConnell had just struck upon how to repeal Obamacare with a simple majority vote.
You see, if it's a tax, a vote to repeal that's done under reconciliation rules can't be filibustered. So Republicans need a Senate majority (along with a House majority and a Republican president) and they can repeal the law without needing 60 Senate votes.

Why, if you didn't know that Roberts is just an impartial arbiter calling balls and strikes, you'd almost imagine that he saw that possibility coming when he handed down his decision.

Obviously, this would have worked out swimmingly for the GOP if the party had run the table in November. But they have an excellent chance of retaking the Senate in 2014 -- and I think they can win the White House two years later, particularly if Hillary Clinton doesn't run. (I'm sure they think they can.)

Yes, I think they'd still be up for repealing the health care law by then. The folks in charge of implementing it will probably still be working out the kinks. I don't think it's going to be an instant smash hit with the public when it's fully implemented. It's going to take some getting used to.

So, yeah, I think this war could still go on for years. Let's not forget that these are Republicans, who never let anything go.

1 comment:

Victor said...

Whereas Democrats are puppies, gnawing at their favorite chew toys, Republicans are rabid pit-bulls, with a lock-jaw-like bites on the femurs of issues that interest them.