Everybody has come out a winner with the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Obamacare — at least politically.
For President Obama, the 6-to-3 decision maintains the federally managed health plans in 34 states that do not have their own systems, thus preventing the collapse of the signature domestic achievement of his presidency. That is an obvious win and, in his White House Rose Garden speech on Thursday, Obama looked like a guy ready to run a victory lap with high-fives for everyone.
As happy as the president is with the result, though, Republicans may be even happier. If the court’s decision had gone the other way, the governors in those 34 states -- most of them Republicans -- would have had a crisis on their hands, and the GOP-led Congress would have been expected to come up with a very quick remedy or risk facing the wrath of millions of voters suddenly dumped from the healthcare system.
Now, Republicans in the House and Senate can continue to rail against Obamacare, hone their talking points and make vague assertions that they have a better idea without having to do anything — and congressional Republicans have proved pretty convincingly that doing nothing is what they do best.
The ruling is especially fortunate for the army of Republican presidential aspirants. Rather than offer detailed schemes to revamp American healthcare — plans that could be nitpicked by rival campaigns, the media and skeptical voters — they can continue to whip up the party’s angry and fearful base by making broad attacks on Obamacare while offering nothing more specific than platitudinous pledges to replace it with a pleasant-sounding “market-based” system that, they insist, will be a million times better.
In his official reaction to the ruling, top-tier GOP candidate Jeb Bush offered a taste of what we will hear for months to come from Republicans on the campaign trail. “As president of the United States, I would make fixing our broken healthcare system one of my top priorities,” Bush said. “I will work with Congress to repeal and replace this flawed law with conservative reforms that empower consumers with more choices and control over their healthcare decisions.”
Nice words, but what do they mean? What would Bush or any of his competitors do about the several million people who were unable to buy into a healthcare plan before passage of the Affordable Care Act because they were too poor or too sick with preexisting ailments? Would a Republican plan keep all the things people like about the ACA, such as letting young people stay on their parents’ plans to the age of 26? If so, how would all the good stuff get paid for if, unlike the current system, some people do not end up paying more to cover the costs of those unable to pay? And how many insurance company lobbyists will be pitching in to help design these “conservative reforms” that will “empower consumers”?
Obamacare is not perfect — there are legitimate complaints that should be addressed — but neither was the status quo perfect before the ACA became law. If there is a better way to go, it would be nice to know what it is, and a presidential campaign seems like a good time to debate alternatives. But don’t expect the Republican candidates to tell you what their plans are. They don’t need to; they just got a reprieve from the Supreme Court.