Ahh… Obamacare… how we’ve missed ye…
Fortunately for political writers like me, the term is once again front and center, eliciting the kind of passion normally reserved for teenage girls screaming either “Team Edward!” or “Team Jacob!” at the top of their lungs. It’s manna from heaven.
For a while there, the rhetoric around health care had dampened somewhat as our politicians (and aspiring politicians) were busying banging the drum about jobs, jobs, jobs: who created them, who destroyed them and who outsourced them. But with the Supreme Court’s breath-holding decision on Obamacare (also known as the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” for those who still rankle at the common man’s term) announced last Thursday, it’s all about health care once again, and the topic is now likely to compete for the top spot during these last laps of the political-spending sweepstakes.
For those who somehow avoided the news, here’s a key-points recap: Apparently the administration’s legal team, concerned that the court might not buy into the traditional “it’s commerce, stupid” argument, threw in a secondary argument just in case, which suggested that the penalties associated with not purchasing insurance under the individual mandate were still constitutional because they were, essentially, a tax. And, as we all know too well, the 16th Amendment says that Congress is allowed to tax us. Chief Justice John Roberts, Solomon-like, bought that argument. While his opinion made clear that the commerce clause was a downright loser, he was quite explicit about the backhanded taxation argument passing constitutional muster.
For the administration, this is roughly the equivalent of throwing in a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth, someone who generally just warms the bench, and watching as he hits one out of the park. The result? Obamacare 1, Opponents 0.
Everybody is screaming, crying, yelling, cheering or insulting somebody or something. The blogosphere is ablaze and the Twitter frenzy continues.
But mostly what everyone is doing is rewriting the narrative. Again. So allow me to make a few brief observations with the hope of talking at least some people off the ledge:
- Chief Justice John Roberts is the same man he was a week ago. The liberal left should realize that he looks no better in a red cape than he does in a black robe, and the conservative right should realize that he’s not a traitor, but a constitutional scholar. He did what he was supposed to do: rationalize with the highest possible degree of impartiality, and avoid—if possible—legislating from the bench. And, while we’re at it, perhaps we should give George W. Bush a bit of credit for choosing for the Supreme Court a man who, it turns out, really belongs there.
- For those cursing into their morning coffee, you should realize that Obamacare isn’t all bad. There’s a reason that a majority of people like many of the major parts of the law while at the same time a majority of people oppose the individual mandate. It’s because we, as a culture, want things but we don’t want to be told we have to want them. It’s a culture-wide case of cognitive dissonance, and we just have to deal with it. The bottom line is that many, many people will have coverage that previously would have had no options, and this isn’t just about the sick kids or the twenty-somethings that can’t find work in this economy and need to live at home (though, admittedly, those two groups get all the press). It’s also the chronically ill who have reached the lifetime maximum insurance payouts and the unfortunate ones who lose employee-sponsored coverage while tending a child’s fever. And many more.
- For those doing back flips and cartwheels, you should realize that Obamacare isn’t all good. Companies—especially smaller ones with less than 500 or so employees—will face some very tough decisions as their costs go up. Some people won’t be hired and some people who have jobs may lose them. Some people will get health coverage at the expense of others losing dental coverage, or disability coverage, or life insurance, or 401(k) plans. There is no free lunch here. We as a society have made a very large decision, and the belief that the poor and middle class will benefit without cost is a myth. Everything important costs, and we can’t have it all. There will, too, undoubtedly be unintended consequences, things that we didn’t think of that will make things better for a time, or worse, and which will require legislative adjustment.
- The elephant is still in the corner. Big corporate interests are still spending their money to lobby, influence, cajole, coerce, and otherwise have a bigger say in your future than you do. The battle is far from over, and vigilance is still the watchword.
Now: here comes the cynical part at least some of you have been waiting for. I’m betting that none of the points I’ve made will get much air time. Instead, we’ll now fight over a new word. Thanks to the chief justice’s decision, invective and spin will circulate around just one thing: Tax. The administration propagandized heavily that Obamacare was not a tax, yet still sent that pinch hitter to the plate. Now they’re stuck with it. Meanwhile, the line on the right is calling it the biggest tax hike in history—which it’s clearly not, since no one has to pay it if they have insurance (which makes it something of a voluntary tax).
So we have a new narrative to take up our time which looks, suspiciously, like a very old narrative: Democrats and taxes vs. Republicans and cutting taxes.
One thing is for sure, though, we won’t spend any time at all taking about what’s important, what the law really means and how we might work together to improve it.