How Will the Supreme Court’s Decision on Health Care Affect The Election?

The Republican strategist and Democratic pollster in their biweekly face-off about Election 2012

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Pete Marovich / Zuma

Protesters from both sides of the health care debate campaigned outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 27, 2012

Penn: Overturning the healthcare law would be a drastic curtailing of Congressional power that will set off a political firestorm that won’t be good for the Court or the body politic.

The Court would in essence be saying that universal healthcare will either have to be provided to everyone at no charge or that requiring people to pony up for healthcare they need will require a constitutional amendment, just as the income tax needed one back in 1913.

Faith in government institutions is already at a record low. Just last fall Gallup reported that 81% of Americans expressed “historic negativity” towards the U.S. government. Yesterday a Bloomberg News poll showed that 75% percent of Americans believe that the Justices’ health care vote will be influenced by their personal politics.

(MORE: Hughes and Penn: Why Are Obama’s Numbers Failing?)

Although this healthcare plan is not popular in recent national polls (47% against in the New York Times/ CBS poll; 42% against in the Washington Post/ ABC poll) such a ruling would put a fork in the ability for Congress to legislate universal healthcare. It would disillusion people even further – Congress doesn’t act much now and when it does it gets overturned. This would be the triple play of gridlock – from the President to Congress to the Court, nothing gets done.

If this suit against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is successful, then perhaps people would want to re-open the requirements for wearing seatbelts or banning kids from sitting in the front seat under age 12. Maybe the mileage standards would have to be rolled back or the EPA standards we have come to rely upon to protect our air. Perhaps we need to reconsider Social Security under similar grounds. Advocates of more states’ rights would use the decision to re-open the debate of the general power and authority of the federal government.

The Republicans would cheer a ruling overturning the plan as a major victory. I think it would boomerang though as the American public doesn’t want to be denied a path to universal care and the decision would create a rallying cry for President Obama and his campaign. The conservative judges would be seen as once again having put a political rather than a legal stamp of opinion on the bill. The politically surer path for the Court would be to let universal healthcare be a matter between the President, Congress and the voters. If they don’t like the plan – and a lot of people don’t – then people can exercise their rights this November. Stopping Congress under any circumstances from requiring people to get healthcare to protect themselves and the greater community seems at best anachronistic and would only further undermine a political system already under a cloud of doubt.

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Hughes: Even if the Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, Team Obama might want to keep the cork in the champagne bottle. Perhaps ironically, the biggest political impact of the Supreme Court decision will come if the Court upholds the law, because that will re-ignite conservative opposition to this expensive albatross and likely cost President Obama his job.

Obama’s strategists clearly believe a Supreme Court decision upholding the law will vindicate their judgment in pursuing it. They are as wrong about that as they were in their conviction that the law would grow more popular over time. Two years into Obamacare, a recent CBS News poll shows more Americans continue to disapprove than approve of it, 47 to 36 percent. And that’s in spite of the fact that only the law’s most popular provisions have taken effect, allowing young people to be covered on their parents’ plans up to age 26, requiring health plans to cover preventive care without charging co-pays, and allowing those with pre-existing conditions to purchase health care through a special pool. Still to come are most of the law’s tax increases and most onerous provisions, including cuts in Medicare payments to health care providers and the requirement that most citizens and legal residents purchase health insurance or pay a fine.

If the Supreme Court strikes down the law, conservatives will declare victory and point to it as a reminder of President Obama’s failed liberal philosophy. But that is already baked into the political calculus. And while most Democrats approve of the law, it’s hard to imagine a finding that it is unconstitutional would motivate them to turn out in greater than expected numbers. On the other hand, even a Supreme Court endorsement will not convince many conservatives that the federal government has the right to require Americans to buy something. And today’s protests against the law may look mild if it becomes clear that the only way to get rid of Obamacare is to get rid of Obama.

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