In ruling that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional but amounts to a tax on Americans who decline to buy insurance, the Supreme Court kicked the divisive issue of health care back into the partisan scrum of Washington politics. The early kicking and scratching from both sides on Sunday's talk shows suggests that the issue will loom large in the November elections, whether the American people like it or not.
The Supreme Court decision should have put the matter to rest, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew argued on Fox News Sunday, clearing the way for the debate about jobs and the economy that are front-and-center in most peoples’ minds.
Repeating a theme he stated on CNN's State of the Union, Lew said Republicans who want to repeal the health care legislation will have to explain to the public why they are against popular provisions such as barring insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, or letting children remain on their policies until they are 26 years old.
As for the unpopular penalty for refusing to buy health insurance that the Supreme Court labeled a tax, Lew insisted that the experience of Massachusetts with a similar mandate suggests that it will only affect one percent of the public.
“This law says that if you can afford insurance and choose not to get it, becoming a free rider and burden on those who do buy insurance, then you have to pay a penalty and your fair share,” said Lew.
Vicki Kennedy, widow of late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said that her husband would have been very pleased but not surprised by the Supreme Court decision on a law that is popular in its particulars, if not in its entirety.
“Health care reform was the cause of my husband’s life, and he believed it was a moral issue that defined who we are as a society and country,” she said on ABC’s This Week. All three branches of the federal government have now affirmed, she said, that affordable health care is a fundamental right, and not a privilege.
Not so fast say Republicans. “Obamacare” is a job-killing, European-style takeover of health care by the federal government that amounts to the “single worst legislation of modern times,” responded Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaking on Fox News Sunday. Not only will it cost nearly 1 million jobs, he argued, but it siphons $500 billion from Medicare, and takes a “meat axe” to an American health care system that is already the finest in the world.
If Republicans win a majority in the Senate in November, McConnell said, he would repeal the Affordable Care Act through a process of “reconciliation” that requires just 51 votes, as opposed to requiring a filibuster proof “super majority” of 60. “The Supreme Court made clear that the [penalty for refusing to buy health care] is a tax, and as such, it is eligible for reconciliation,” he said.
But when pressed by host Chris Wallace about the GOP's alternative, McConnell responded: "That is not the issue" -- a response that the Democratic National Committee made sure to highlight in an e-mail to reporters.
Despite their disappointment that the Supreme Court found the Affordable Care Act constitutional, Republicans clearly sense that they have been handed a potent issue for this fall’s election.
Health care has made this “the most important election of our lifetime,” argued House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaking on This Week. The choice before the American people, he said, is between two fundamentally irreconcilable philosophies that embrace a government–driven society on the one hand, and a free economy and personal liberty on the other.
“We disagree with the notion that our rights come from the government,” said Ryan. “According to the Declaration of Independence, those come from God and nature.”