What We Learned: The Tax Argument Cometh
What we at The Hotline learned this week:
-- Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts surprised us all by joining the liberal majority, angering some of his staunchest champions in the process. But this was no 5-4 decision upholding the individual mandate. Instead, by allowing the mandate to stand as a tax, Roberts, consciously or not, handed GOPers tools to use both this year and next in the pursuit of defeating President Obama and his health care law.
Expect the GOP to call it the biggest tax increase in history, the party's well-worn label last used during the debate over extending the Bush tax cuts. And imagine the advertisements contrasting Obama's insistence that he's not raising taxes with the Court's decision. If the GOP wins back the Senate majority, a tax is likely easier to undo via the budget reconciliation process than a mandate would have been. Aides caution the rules are complex, and they're still exploring their options, but the ruling once again reminds that the battle for the Senate is as crucial to both sides as the fight for the White House.
-- For all the awkward, nervous or frog-in-their-throats public speakers just having a bad day, there's hope. The Supreme Court's decision to uphold the health care law, despite widespread criticism of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli's performance in the courtroom, proves that oral arguments are less about putting on a good show than making viable points and that, more significantly, oral arguments aren't always what seals the deal. Verrilli did, in fact, argue the mandate as a tax, but Roberts's endorsement of this argument reminds us that votes are cast and opinions are written based on much more than courtroom crossfire. Perhaps there's a reason the high court is one of the last venues in American politics still averse to live recordings and modern media technology.
-- Polling on the health care law shows it remains unpopular. Nearly half of Americans oppose it, outpacing the percentage supporting it by about 10 percentage points. The individual mandate earns even less support in most surveys, and polls showed that most Americans supported striking down that provision.
The July 4 holiday notwithstanding, expect a slew of national and state polls over the coming weeks that ask Americans what they think about the court's ruling. But be wary: differences in question wording and methodologies could make a big difference between these surveys. Polls that ask about the court's decision regarding the overall law, or just the individual mandate, will produce divergent results. Question order could be an issue, too; polls that ask about the unpopular mandate, for instance, before questions about the ruling could prime respondents to oppose the decision.
-- Most of the victories that the Left has won recently, such as the Obama administration's decisions on contraception, gay marriage, immigration, and, of course, the healthcare ruling, are generally seen as net political washes nationally. But in many red states and districts, and even some purple ones, each "win" might well lead to the vague sense amongst voters that more of a check on the president's power is needed back in Washington. It's easy to see Republican Senate and congressional candidates as the ultimate political beneficiaries of decisions that can be perceived as concentrating more power inside the Beltway.