From the day President Obama’s trillion-dollar health care package passed in March 2010, political pundits have been pronouncing the Republicans’ top hopeful, former Gov. Mitt Romney, dead in the water.
How could the Massachusetts moderate possibly win, given that as governor he passed his own health care reform bill; one with an individual mandate, no less? And who is he to criticize the president, who simply took his state plan and made it national?
All that could change in June when the Supreme Court finally decides whether Obamacare is constitutional. And have no doubt: The court will void the entirety of the law because it IS unconstitutional.
The biggest get for Mr. Romney — he can say “I told you so.” He did. For months and months. He said what the Constitution says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” They are. Clear, simple.
But, as he has said repeatedly, states can pass such plans, making the local lawmakers who support and oppose such a mandate answerable to voters. Some states will surely follow Massachusetts and pass a health care reform law suitable for its residents; others will debate and reject a new law. And that is as it should be.
“Romneycare” has never really resonated with voters nationwide. Few are concerned about what a Northeast governor did in his tiny state, mainly because it has no effect whatsoever on them. But Americans are concerned about the spiraling costs of health care and many do want something done about it. Was Romneycare the answer? Obamacare? No one knows for sure, but Americans still appear open to some sort of solution — as long as it doesn’t turn the federal government into Big Brother and cost trillions of dollars the U.S. simply doesn’t have.
Several justices in the Supreme Court voiced serious concern over Obamacare, asking skeptical questions of the president’s top lawyer. Chief among them was Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who cut to the core of the matter: “Do you not have a heavy burden of justification to show authorization under the Constitution?”
Justice Antonin Scalia, once thought (by pundits, anyway) as a possible vote to keep Obamacare alive, slashed at the premise of the law, namely, that the government can force citizens to buy something — anything.
“Could you define the market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli,” Justice Scalia said. And once more: “If people don’t buy cars, the price that those who do buy cars pay will have to be higher. So you could say in order to bring the price down, you are hurting these other people by not buying a car.”
The piercing, and at times mocking, questions bode ill for the over-reaching law, and Mr. Romney is poised to take the offensive when the law falls.
“What we need is a free market, federalist approach to making quality, affordable health insurance available to every American. Each state should be allowed to pursue its own solution in this regard, instead of being dictated to by Washington,” the soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee wrote in an op-ed piece.
And he laid out in stark terms the vast gulf between his vision and the president’s: “The reforms I propose for the country could not be more different from Barack Obama‘s. They entail no new taxes, no massive diversions of funds away from Medicare, no tax discrimination, and no new bureaucracies. At the same time, they increase consumer choice, lower health care costs, decrease government spending, and give states responsibility for dealing with the uninsured.”
Democrats are busying putting the best possible spin on an overturn by the High Court. “Just as a professional Democrat, there’s nothing better to me than overturning this thing 5-4 and then the Republican Party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future,” said former President Clinton strategist James Carville. “And I really believe that. That is not spin.”
In the end, the High Court rejection of Obamacare would invalidate what Mr. Obama thinks is his highest achievement. Voters would go, “Hmm. Turns out all that health care reform stuff was unconstitutional — illegal. Why’s the president trying to do something that’s illegal?”
What’s more, overturning the overreaching law would end discussion of the matter, and Mr. Romney could pivot to key issues for voters: the economy and the federal government’s massive spending. In one swoop, he’d go from playing on Mr. Obama’s home field to his own. The 2012 presidential campaign will be dramatically altered and will likely force the president to go even more negative: Look what a Republican-majority court has done, America.
By then it will be too little too late. His negativity has already turned off voters, just as Mr. Romney’s Reagan-like optimism has encouraged them. The entire race could well be decided that June day of the Supreme Court ruling, and Mitt Romney can’t wait.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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