"In my first term, we passed
Thanks to the Supreme Court, President Obama can take that item off his agenda. But Chief JusticeJohn G. Roberts Jr.guaranteed last week that health care will still be at the center of this year's presidential race.
Although Americans like many of the
Capitalizing on that skepticism, Republicans have waged an effective and well-funded campaign to raise fears about everything that could go wrong. So far, more than $235 million has been spent on television advertising alone. That has brought us ads like the one a conservative group aired last month featuring Dr. Ami Siems, an appealing family doctor from Oklahoma, who frets on camera: "I don't want anything to come between my patients and me — especially Washington bureaucrats."
Now the court, by ruling that the law's penalty for not purchasing insurance is actually a tax, has given the GOP a new line of attack: the charge that the health care law was actually a stealthy way of pushing through a tax increase. (In fact, the individual mandate penalty is expected to produce less than 5 percent of the new revenue in the law after it's phased in; the biggest new taxes, which will fall on high-income taxpayers and insurance providers, were labeled as taxes all along.)
The battle for public opinion isn't over, though. Despite the concentrated assaults and a decidedly weak defense by
The law's future now depends almost completely on the November election. Mr. Obama's opponent,
Even if the GOP wins only 50 seats in the Senate, a President Romney could try to defund and dismantle key parts of the law through the legislative device known as budget reconciliation. It would require some creativity; a reconciliation bill can deal only with budget measures, and only if it cuts the federal deficit. But GOP aides are already working on such a measure.
If Mr. Obama wins reelection, the Senate will still be key. The president has already promised to veto any attempt to dismantle the law, a vow that presumably extends to a reconciliation bill. At that point, Senate leaders would need 67 votes to override a veto, almost surely an insuperable barrier.
But Republicans have another front they will pursue if Mr. Obama wins in November. Some GOP governors, including
Wilbur J. Cohen, the scholar and federal bureaucrat who helped write both the Social Security Act of 1935 and the Medicare law of 1965, often said: "Social policy is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent implementation." The only way Mr. Obama's health care law will survive to become a durable part of the nation's social fabric will be through its full implementation beginning in 2014 — if it survives the warfare of the next two years.
If the law doesn't work, it will get reexamined. If costs grow faster than promised, if new patients swamp the health care system, if revenues prove inadequate, if employers flee — all dangers that critics have warned about — the law will be imperiled.
So Democrats just won an important legal case, but it was only one battle in a very long war.