Obama's new three-front war on ObamaCare

Barack Obama may have won a legal battle at the Supreme Court over ObamaCare, but he also ended up with a huge political fight on his hands just as the presidential election begins to catch the attention of voters.  Those voters are not big fans of ObamaCare, regardless of its new status as a constitutional tax.  A new Washington Post/ABC poll shows their sample evenly split on the ruling, but slightly opposed overall to ObamaCare, and independents are significantly negative about both:


Most Americans agree on one thing related to the court’s upholding the law – that they feel “strongly” about the outcome – but the consensus ends there.

Overall, the poll finds attitudes split down the middle on the court ruling, with 43 percent holding favorable impressions of the ruling, and just as many, 42 percent, holding unfavorable ones.

The partisan gap is stark: Fully two-thirds of conservative Republicans have strongly unfavorable views of the judgment, and nearly as many liberal Democrats – 61 percent – hold intensely positive ones. Among political independents, 36 percent have overall favorable impressions; 43 percent overall negative views.

Partisans are also fairly well lined up behind their parties’ presidential candidates on the issue: 80 percent of Democrats have favorable views of President Obama’s plans for health care; most, but fewer Republicans – 62 percent – have positive views of Mitt Romney’s ideas.

One potential trouble spot for both campaigns, however, is that independents tilt away from both approaches. Independents lead away from Obama’s plans: 38 percent favorable to 52 percent unfavorable. The percentage of independents with negative views of Romney’s plans outnumbers positive impressions by twenty percentage points (46 to 26 percent, with a sizable 28 percent expressing no opinion).

Bear in mind that the poll’s sample data has yet to be published.  Given what we know about their usual partisan breakdown, this is likely to be hiding some bad news for Obama.  The seven-point gap among independents should reflect better in the overall rating, especially given the mirror-image results among Republicans and Democrats, unless Democrats got oversampled yet again.  Even taking this at face value, Obama didn’t gain anything politically from the favorable court ruling.


As I argue in my column for The Week, Obama stands to lose a lot more in the political arena.  He now faces a three-front war over ObamaCare in the next few months, which is one reason why Jack Lew and other Democratic surrogates want to change the subject:

1. The return of the Tea Party

The Tea Party was born before Congress began debating the health-care overhaul in the summer of 2009, but the proposal galvanized the protests into a full-fledged movement. Until the court upheld ObamaCare, Tea Party activists had little reason to organize or donate on Romney’s behalf, as they viewed him with distrust after his own health-care reforms in Massachusetts. But now, Tea Party activists have no way of getting rid of the ACA except by defeating Obama in November. Commentator and early Tea Party supporter Kevin McCullough told me that he has heard from every Tea Party group with which he’s worked about the need to elect Romney, a big change from earlier in the year when some of these same groups threatened to sit out the 2012 elections if Romney won the GOP nomination. The Supreme Court’s decision guarantees that the Tea Party will go from lukewarm to fired up.

2. The resistance of Republican governors

In a move that didn’t garner much attention at first, Roberts’ decision did overturn one key component of the ACA. Before the court’s ruling, states that refused to comply with a Medicaid expansion that provides most of the coverage for the uninsured would have risked losing at least a significant part of their existing federal Medicaid funding. Roberts limited the penalty in the ACA to only the funds for the expansion — which means that states no longer pay a penalty for refusing to expand Medicaid.

Now that the federal government can’t threaten to reduce base Medicaid funding in retaliation for refusing to enact the expansion, a number of Republican governors have announced that their states will not participate: Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rick Scott of Florida, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Rick Perry of Texas, among others. …

3. The ire of the Catholic Church

Call this one the War of Choice in the health-care battles, irony fully intended. Obama took a powerful voting bloc that gave him a nine-point edge in 2008 and its Catholic bishop leaders that support universal health care, and turned them into bitter foes just months before the election. Had the court overturned ObamaCare, the HHS contraception mandate would have disappeared too, and with it the only reason for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to be politically engaged in this cycle.


The last is the easiest to solve, as I explain in the column, but so far the White House shows no sign of buckling on the contraception mandate.  It’s a very strange political choice, and one that will complicate matters for Obama tremendously as he tries to repair his 2008 coalition.  Now that the Roberts court has handed him a big legal victory, Obama can’t even run against the Supreme Court — but Romney can, and undoubtedly will to the extent that he wants to talk about anything else but jobs and the economy.

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