Will ObamaCare decision provide a redefining moment for federal power?

posted at 12:41 pm on June 26, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Now that Mandate-mas has been firmly scheduled for Thursday, a few final analyses are now in order.  After all, between the Issa/Holder confrontation over Operation Fast and Furious and the Supreme Court, not much else is making news this week anyway, is it?  In my column for The Week, I game out the possible outcomes and predict their impact on the political landscape in this election season — and warn Republicans about the perils of static analysis if the court does the unexpected and upholds ObamaCare in its entirety:

To hear the way some critics talk, Obama finds himself in a no-win position. TIME‘s Mark Halperin argued on Monday, before it became apparent that the Supreme Court wouldn’t issue its decision until later in the week, that every outcome would be bad news for Obama. Halperin told Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that “a lot of Democrats” tell him the same thing. The idea is that the bill is so unpopular, even a win at the Supreme Court can’t turn it into a net positive for voters. Democrats on the campaign trail, Halperin said, “largely hide from it.”

Republicans had better not bet the house on that interpretation, although obviously, a large number of them believe it. It’s true that the ACA has remained remarkably unpopular, with some polls showing as many as two-thirds of the country wanting the Supreme Court to overturn the mandate or the whole bill. The mandate in particular rankles Americans, most of whom are stunned to think that the federal government can order them to buy a product at all, whether it be health insurance or broccoli, the counter example that has grown inexplicably popular as the horrific reductio ad absurdum of limitless government power. (Shouldn’t the worst-case scenario really be Brussels sprouts?)

But let’s get real: Assuming that a positive ruling from the Supreme Court would have no impact on the ACA’s popularity is quite a leap. Public opinion could easily change if the Supreme Court upholds the ACA and the mandate, especially if the vote is something other than a narrow 5-4. Such a decision won’t make ObamaCare popular overnight, but it might prompt some of those who disliked the bill for its reported unconstitutionality to rethink the matter. Many voters would similarly re-evaluate the Republican lawmakers who insisted that ObamaCare could not possibly survive constitutional scrutiny.

Given the oral arguments from March and the tea-leaf reading this week, I’d call that a slim possibility anyway.  The Supreme Court seems ready to strike down at least some portion of the PPACA on Thursday, and as I wrote in my column, those options are almost unrelentingly bad for Obama.  But will a partial overturning really settle anything?  Jonathan Adler and Michael Cannon argue that the court might be inclined to strike the whole thing, rather than endure years of continued litigation on the remnants.  For instance, the tax application may already be a prime target for a complaint about the PPACA’s  constitutionality, as well as its funding:

Even if the Affordable Care Act survives its first Supreme Court test— a ruling is due as early as today — the lawsuits won’t end. Citizens have already filed challenges to what critics call the law’s “death panel” and its impact on privacy rights, religious liberty and physician-owned hospitals. Still another potential lawsuit poses as great a threat to the law as the case now before the high court.

Under the guise of implementing the law, the Internal Revenue Service has announced it will impose a tax of up to $3,000 per worker on employers whom Congress has not authorized a tax. To make things more interesting: If the IRS doesn’t impose that unauthorized tax, the whole law could collapse.

The Act’s “employer mandate” taxes employers up to $3,000 per employee if they fail to offer required health benefits. But that tax kicks in only if their employees receive tax credits or subsidies to purchase a health plan through a state-run insurance “exchange.”

This 2,000-page law is complex. But in one respect the statute is clear: Credits are available only in states that create an exchange themselves. The federal government might create exchanges in states that decline, but it cannot offer credits through its own exchanges. And where there can be no credits, there is nothing to trigger that $3,000 tax.

If anything, leaving the remnants in place makes this a bigger headache for the courts, not less of one, just as it does for Obama and Democrats (as I also argue in my column).  With Congress explicitly excluding language for severability in the bill, the court has a Mack truck-sized opening to dump the whole bill rather than just surgically excise any offending portion.  The more I think about this, the more I think a middle ground solution might be less likely.

Of course, an adverse ruling will have the liberal legal establishment up in arms, angrily denouncing the Supreme Court — a process some have already begun as a means to shape the political battleground if ObamaCare gets overturned in part or in whole.  How can the Court turn its back on eighty years of commerce-clause precedent, they will scream, and find limitations of federal power?  Charles Lane, a center-left columnist at the Washington Post, reminds them that those precedents took place in an era when federal intervention was new and unprecedented itself, and that eighty years of experience may have America at a point where a consensus is developing that it’s neither proper nor beneficial:

In the 1930s, expanding federal power was innovative, promising. By blessing it, the court aligned itself with the wave of the future, in this country and globally. Ditto for the 1960s. Much of the legislation that resulted — from Social Security to the Voting Rights Act — was indeed progressive.

Today, however, there is nothing new about federal intervention — and much evidence from the past 70 years that big programs produce inefficiencies and unintended consequences.

The post-New Deal consensus about the scope of federal power has broken down amid national, and global, concern over the welfare state’s cost and intrusiveness — a sea change of which the tea party is but one manifestation. Obamacare itself, which has consistently polled badly, fueled that movement.

Much has been made of the fact that Republicans had no objection, constitutional or otherwise, when the individual mandate first surfaced. But that was two decades ago. In today’s changed intellectual, fiscal and political environment, seemingly lapidary constitutional phrases such as “commerce … among the several states” can acquire fresh meaning, as they did for the New Deal and at other points in the past.

In that sense, a rejection of ObamaCare would match the consensus we’ve seen in the polling over the last two years.  Americans don’t want a federal government that can mandate purchases of private-sector goods and services, no matter how beneficial the governing class believes them to be.  This could very well be a turning point that redefines and contracts federal reach — and if so, then the last two years will have been well worth the trouble.


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Comment pages: 1 2

You don’t like the eligibility issue? Fine. Don’t think that harping on those of us who care makes you look the least bit intelligent. It doesn’t. It makes you look stupid.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on June 26, 2012 at 2:36 PM

Thnx.

((clapping))

GrannyDee on June 26, 2012 at 2:46 PM

I see. You can post your thoughts, but I can’t post mine.

Got it.

GrannyDee on June 26, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Let’s see, where did I say you couldn’t post your thoughts? Oh yeah, I didn’t.

Don’t think that harping on those of us who care makes you look the least bit intelligent. It doesn’t. It makes you look stupid.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on June 26, 2012 at 2:36 PM

What makes you look stupid is hanging on to a debunked talking point years after it makes any dang difference.

Yes, Obama is a Marxist loon! Yes, he lied his face off about his past! No, your sore-loser conspiracy theory will not get him out of office! We lost in ’08, but will you please get. over. it. already?!?!

The fight is now to keep him from getting elected AGAIN.

MelonCollie on June 26, 2012 at 2:48 PM

GrannyDee on June 26, 2012 at 2:46 PM

Thank YOU, Granny.

I understand people who think he’s eligible but they should have had no problem having the issue resolved, as disputes in law need to be. Ignoring the Constitution for that issue is what started this whole mess with an administration that hasn’t been held to ANY Constitutional limits. The eligibility issue was the loose thread that started the whole Constitutional unraveling we’ve seen happening before our eyes (and accelerating) as the refusal to have even a simple and clear clause officially resolved in court led to others being loathe to try to defend fuzzier Constitutional limits.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on June 26, 2012 at 2:53 PM

Totally uncalled for. Shame on you.

GrannyDee on June 26, 2012 at 2:28 PM

Stay outta this, grandma. I know you’re not a Birthtard.

MelonCollie on June 26, 2012 at 2:31 PM

Save the finger-wagging, grandma. This is a political site, not a knitting forum.

MelonCollie on June 26, 2012 at 2:31 PM

Classy responses.

/

Del Dolemonte on June 26, 2012 at 3:06 PM

Classy responses.

/

Del Dolemonte on June 26, 2012 at 3:06 PM

*plays tiny violin*

As if far worse wasn’t said here every day.

MelonCollie on June 26, 2012 at 3:12 PM

Pumpkins fans can be azzclowns, too.

cane_loader on June 26, 2012 at 3:15 PM

As if far worse wasn’t said here every day.

MelonCollie on June 26, 2012 at 3:12 PM

And they were also banned…

dominigan on June 26, 2012 at 3:35 PM

I forgot about that stupid white coat photo op…

Some of them dared to show up at the white house in a suit.

flstc on June 26, 2012 at 3:41 PM

That picture of the two doctors wearing their white robes and clapping like clowns is utterly pathetic. Only a left wing lunatic would accept to be used as a clown for a photo-op picture by Obama political circus… I bet that these two doctors are failed ones, may be some insignificant general practitioners with no specialties, who make much less money than most other doctors, and are full of jealousy and envy of the other doctors. They want Obamacare crap because on the long run it would level the playing fields for them i.e. make the others doctors get paid less than they are paid now… Liberalism is a mental disorder…

mnjg on June 26, 2012 at 3:53 PM

Executive Orders are way overrated. First it is very hard to implement most exuctive orders specially when money is involved because only Congress allocates money… Second Executive orders can be easily overturned by the next President…
Do you remmeber the Gitmo Executive order by Obaman? Yeah many of you forgot about it because it went nowhere…

mnjg on June 26, 2012 at 3:59 PM

I forgot about that stupid white coat photo op…

Some of them dared to show up at the white house in a suit.

flstc on June 26, 2012 at 3:41 PM

All those white coats are in the basement of the White House gathering dust. Everyone knows that doctors go nowhere without their white labcoats. I even see them on the beach in Hilton Head.

slickwillie2001 on June 26, 2012 at 3:59 PM

On the other hand, striking down all or part of it will open up almost unlimited opportunity for Obama and Democrats to lie and demagogue about what the law “would have” done, and what the mean ol’ Republicans “took away”. Every person who dies in the country going forward will get blamed on those who opposed this law.

forest on June 26, 2012 at 12:59 PM | Delete | Delete and Ban

That might be a tad difficult this time, since like the unemployed and those who know the unemployed, there’s no spinning the economic disaster. Obamacare is affecting a whole lot of people–and not in a good way. I work for a very large company. Coincidentally with this week’s big news, we all got notified today of the changes to our health care starting in 2013. And it’s not at all good.

I get a huge kick out of the new Obamacare commercials. You can get a mammogram free. They send trucks around to neighborhoods and even if you have to go to the MRI place, if you pay cash, it’s around $90. IF they find something, you have to have a dr to go to and treatment pronto. No pronto, no livo. That’s why so many more women die in England and Canada from breast cancer. Screen you must, but without treatment that’s a big waste of time.

BTW, you can get your blood pressure checked at WalMart. No need to destroy the best healthcare system in the world.

Portia46 on June 26, 2012 at 4:22 PM

BTW, you can get your blood pressure checked at WalMart. No need to destroy the best healthcare system in the world.

Portia46 on June 26, 2012 at 4:22 PM

I bought a little electronic blood pressure checker at Harbor Freight for $9.99, works like a charm.

slickwillie2001 on June 26, 2012 at 4:37 PM

Save the finger-wagging, grandma. This is a political site, not a knitting forum.

MelonCollie on June 26, 2012 at 2:31 PM

Were you recently riding a school bus and made a big splash on the internet? What a perfectly nasty number. You really, really don’t believe in any sort of Karma, do you? If you are lucky, you may live beyond 26 and that Karma thing may bite you in this life, not the next. Good luck.

Portia46 on June 26, 2012 at 4:52 PM

Classy responses.

/

Del Dolemonte on June 26, 2012 at 3:06 PM

*plays tiny violin*

As if far worse wasn’t said here every day.

MelonCollie on June 26, 2012 at 3:12 PM

Classy.

/

Del Dolemonte on June 26, 2012 at 6:02 PM

So, here is the plan IF the supreme court upholds the individual mandate.

What we will need is a constitutional ammendment that re-affirms 500+ years of contract law.

Failing to get that will likely mean the end of the US as various states no longer care what the federal government says or does as the contract called the constitution is no longer valid.

Freddy on June 26, 2012 at 6:09 PM

As if far worse wasn’t said here every day.

MelonCollie on June 26, 2012 at 3:12 PM

Yeh know what you mean. Now FO.

CW on June 26, 2012 at 6:30 PM

Romney should announce that on the day he takes office he will ask for the resignations of any justice who voted to uphold Obamacare. Yes I’m fully aware that he has no authority to do this and that the justices will tell him to take a hike. However any vote affirming Obamacare indicates the justice no longer takes their oath to uphold the Constitution seriously. I have no problem berating them and humiliating them in public. Then the House should withhold funding for the portion of the court that voted to uphold.

Metanis on June 26, 2012 at 7:14 PM

This is just the SCOUS’s and POTUS’s attempt to employ a bunch of out-of-work lawyers. Anything to help the law schools keep pumping them out.

Old Country Boy on June 26, 2012 at 7:34 PM

I bought a little electronic blood pressure checker at Harbor Freight for $9.99, works like a charm.

slickwillie2001 on June 26, 2012 at 4:37 PM

I go through those a lot. The problem is that I can’t use it and surf the Web at the same time — the display melts and shatters.

Mary in LA on June 26, 2012 at 8:31 PM

Yeh know what you mean. Now FO.

CW on June 26, 2012 at 6:30 PM

Make me.

MelonCollie on June 26, 2012 at 10:16 PM

So many pundits have said that Roberts may join the liberals to avoid a 5-4 decision, and to write a narrow opinion, to protect his legacy as chief justice.

How about the legacy of having presided over the death of federalism?

Droopy on June 27, 2012 at 12:01 PM

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