The Supreme Court’s health care ruling today is a political victory for President Obama if you simply accept Mitt Romney’s most recent statement prior to the decision being handed down.
Yet the court, with the vote of conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, today upheld the law’s constitutionality.
Accepting Romney’s logic, that would mean that the bulk of Obama’s first term in office was spent on something that helped the American people.
Roberts is not someone Romney can dismiss, either. On his campaign website, he pledges to nominate Supreme Court justices “in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts,” as well as other court conservatives.
In addition, writing for the majority, Roberts said the mandate requiring able individuals to buy health insurance coverage would not pass muster under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, as critics claimed, but is legal and constitutional when viewed as a tax device to pay for that coverage.
And by Roberts’s logic, the individual mandate that Romney instituted in Massachusetts in 2006 when the then-governor signed a health care law—upon which the Obama legislation was based—must then also be seen as a tax.
That cuts Romney in two ways: The president can not only argue that his mandate—widely condemned by conservatives—is constitutional, but that the nation’s highest court itself has suggested that Romney imposed a tax on Massachusetts residents when he served as their leader.
Romney has continuously boasted that he never raised taxes while leading Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.
Obama may be reluctant to highlight this aspect of the Massachusetts and federal mandates, since he does not want to fuel the perception he is a tax-and-spender, but he now has a ready rejoinder if Romney repeats his anti-tax boast on the campaign trail or during a presidential debate.
For his part, Romney now has fresh political standing to attack the Obama law, saying it imposes a costly tax on the American people.
He can point out, too, that the president repeatedly said that his health care law did not create any new taxes on the public. Now, an independent analyst—Roberts—has said it did.
And during his speech Tuesday in Salem, Va., Romney also left himself a campaign escape hatch if the court ruled to uphold the law.
“If it is deemed to stand, then I’ll tell you one thing: We’re going to have to have a president—and I’m that one—that’s going to get rid of Obamacare. We’re going to stop it on Day One,” said Romney.
Obama, though, now has his own ready rejoinder: The law has been upheld as constitutional, lifting the cloud of doubt about its legality that conservatives and Republicans have cast over it for the past two years.
And the president can also highlight the elements of this freshly deemed constitutional law that polls show many Americans now favor: keeping children insured through their parents’ coverage until they are 26; a ban on denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions; and an expansion of Medicaid coverage that has reduced the number of people who are uninsured.
In essence, the Supreme Court today took politics out of the debate about the Obama administration’s health care law. It is legal.
Now one of the big questions for voters in November can be, do they support the guy who wants to keep it, or the one who wants to get rid of it?Glen Johnson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.