Barack Obama moved into the White House three-and-a-half years ago hoping to use his knowledge in constitutional law to reform the American healthcare system. Seven presidents before him had the same exact dream but failed to make it a reality. But the former University of Chicago law professor insisted that his Affordable Healthcare Act would be different, adding that it would address some of the nation’s most pressing statistics. Approximately 50 million Americans went without medical coverage as recently as two years ago. Many of the businesses who once offered employees health benefits are no longer providing such services. And those who have health insurance face costs that have risen tenfold since 1980. The President told ABC’s Charles Gibson three years ago that healthcare will soon become less of a nationwide worry and that his act, which Congress had just recently passed, “will be the single most important piece of domestic legislation passed since Social Security.”
The Supreme Court will announce on Thursday morning whether or not it finds the Affordable Care Act fully or partially constitutional. Justices could uphold the law, strike it down fully, or eliminate specific clauses, such as Medicaid expansion, the individual health coverage mandate, and protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Regardless of outcome, Democrats and Republicans alike will quickly publicize their own talking points in a predictable effort to boost their respective presidential candidates’ credibility. But while the healthcare debate is an easy, reliable way for both Obama and challenger Mitt Romney to wrangle in their partisan bases, the issue is hardly a concern for most voters.
Only six percent of Americans consider healthcare the defining issue of this year’s campaign, according to a recent Gallup survey. Four other issues – the economy, unemployment, inaction in Washington, and the budget deficit – took more precedent among voters. Obama’s recent support of gay marriage affected him little in the polls, and the dent following the success or defeat of his healthcare law will probably be just as miniscule in this year’s race.
But those on both sides of the campaign trail will still remind voters that since the “Obamacare” debate played a key role in many congressional elections two years ago, it still has a chance to impact the vote this time around. Five of the nine justices were nominated by Republican presidents, so if the law is fully upheld, chances are that the Obama campaign will praise the decision as a bi-partisan effort. But if the court rejects any or all parts of the act, Team Romney will likely stress that the President spent nearly his entire term passing an unconstitutional law when he could have instead focused on restoring the economy.
“If Obamacare is not deemed constitutional, then the first three-and-a-half years of this president’s term will have been wasted on something that has not helped the American people,” Romney told a crowd of supporters in Salem, Virginia on Tuesday. “If it is deemed to stand, then I’ll tell you one thing: We’re going to have to have a president, and I’m that one, that’s going to get rid of Obamacare. We’re going to stop it on Day 1.”
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-ND) was Obama’s initial selection for health and human services secretary. He told The Washington Post last week, “It will be heavily politicized, regardless of whatever decision the court makes. It will be overstated, exaggerated.”
Regardless of how urgently Obama, Romney, and their supporters repeat their messages about healthcare, the issue cannot and will not be a determining factor in this year’s presidential election. White House campaigns typically have more diverse fundraising sources than low-profile congressional races and must satisfy several interest pockets in order to gain ground. There are simply too many concerns at stake and too many lobbyists to please.
The healthcare decision will rather affect policymakers on the congressional level. If the Supreme Court does not repeal the act completely, Democrats will try salvaging what they do have. Republicans will hurriedly formulate an alternative solution to Obamacare, despite it still being a point of party-wide contention.
“As I, Leader Cantor, Whip McCarthy and other leaders have made clear in recent days, the House will act in the coming weeks on legislation to repeal any part of Obamacare that is left standing by the Supreme Court,” House Speaker John Boehner wrote in a memo to his fellow Congress Republicans last Thursday.
Such tasks are easier said than done. Members of both congressional chambers will most likely not follow through with their respective party’s plans until early next year. Calling the ruling an immediate game-changer would be a premature move.