Obamacare Takes Center Stage

Obamacare by from The Weekly Standard, June 30, 2015

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell, most signs point toward Obamacare becoming the defining issue in the 2016 election.  That puts Republicans in an advantageous position, as it’s a lot easier to propose and defend an alternative to Obamacare than to defend Obamacare.  Indeed, the Republican candidate who GOP voters — and then general-election voters — think is most able to lead on this issue, propose a winning alternative, and sign repeal legislation into law, is likely to become both the Republican nominee and the president.

Right after the Court’s ruling, President Obama predictably proclaimed that Obamacare “is here to stay.”  (He also said, “This law is working exactly as it’s supposed to.  In many ways, this law is working better than we expected it to” — an amazing statement.)  But outside of the imaginary world in which Obama lives, the centrality of Obamacare to the 2016 election is becoming clear.

The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel writes, “Now that the long months of waiting silently and expectantly for the court’s decision are over, debate on ObamaCare is about to explode in a way not witnessed since 2010.”  She observes, “GOP candidates now have a clear field to present the presidential race as another referendum on ObamaCare.  Only this time there will be no Romney-like nominee with a health-care history that tanks his ability to engage.”

Most encouragingly, Strassel writes, “The candidates will soon be issuing (if they haven’t already) comprehensive proposals, setting up ObamaCare to be the most high-profile, defining domestic issue of 2016 — in a way it never came close to being in 2012.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board similarly emphasizes the importance of Obamacare alternatives, writing, “The GOP presidential candidates denounced Thursday’s ruling, but their challenge now will be coming up with a reform plan to replace [Obamacare].”

Ted Cruz wasting no time showing that he welcomes a fight over Obamacare, saying, “Every GOP candidate for the Republican nomination should know that this decision makes the 2016 election a referendum on the full repeal of Obamacare.”  But it remains to be seen whether Cruz will advance an Obamacare alternative that Republican voters would recognize could win in a general-election contest.

Even Hillary Clinton, in her response to the case, seemed to want to tie herself to Obamacare and embrace future fights:  “I’ve fought for the promise of quality, affordable health care for every American for decades.  And I’m not going to stop now.”  She added that “the evidence is clear: it’s working.”  (Clinton also suggested that she didn’t understand the case, saying, “Now that the Supreme Court has once again re-affirmed the ACA as the law of the land” — no one was disputing that; the case was about whether the Obama administration was enforcing it as the law of the law — “it’s time for the Republican attacks to end.”)

While GOP presidential candidates advance and debate Obamacare alternatives, the Congress will presumably be passing legislation to repeal all (or at least the vast majority) of Obamacare through reconciliation.  Strassel writes, “[T]he court’s ruling refires the starting gun for congressional Republicans, who will begin by passing later this summer or in early fall a full repeal of ObamaCare as part of their budget reconciliation (which requires only 51 Senate votes). Mr. Obama will veto it, but the GOP will finally be able to say that it put repeal on his desk.”

But House speaker John Boehner seems less sure about this course of action than Strassel is.  Shortly after the ruling, he said, “Obamacare is fundamentally broken,” yet “there’s been no decision about how to deal with — what to use reconciliation for.”

It seems unlikely, however, that congressional leadership will be able to prevent reconciliation from being used for what it should be used for:  repealing Obamacare.  Obama will veto the ensuing legislation, but the exercise will serve as a nice trial run for 2017 — when there will be real bullets in the gun.

© 2015 Weekly Standard LLC. Reprinted with permission.