The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Obamacare has come with side effects both positive and negative.
The most positive side effect has been response of conservative activists, especially with the rejuvenation and remobilization of the Tea Party. You can be sure that the Tea Party will see to it that Obamacare remains front and center during the 2012 presidential election given that the Supreme Court has seen fit to view Obamacare as a tax. After all, the Tea Party was formed because we’re “taxed enough already.” If Obamacare could motivate voters to toss out Democrats in the House and Senate in 2010, then it could very well motivate voters to do the same with President Obama in November.
Unfortunately, this brings me to the most negative side effect of the Supreme Court decision — Mitt Romney’s response to it. During the GOP primaries, when Romney was asked about the difference between Obamacare and Romneycare in Massachusetts, he would argue that his plan was constitutional. Well, now that the Supreme Court has spoken Romney can no longer make that claim and it seems to have caught his campaign off guard, as illustrated by Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom’s painful attempts to explain why the Obamacare mandate was a penalty and not a tax. On FNC’s Special Report with Bret Baier, Charles Krauthammer said, “What Romney ought to say is “OK, it’s a tax.” Well, Romney has taken a dose of Dr. K’s prescription and has now said that the Obamacare mandate is a tax after all.
However, this won’t be the last time Romney is asked about health care during this campaign. Even if voters consider the economy a more a pressing matter, it isn’t like the economy and health care are mutually exclusive. As it stands now, Obamacare is the law of the land and will stay so if President Obama is re-elected in the fall. If Obamacare is implemented, it will have consequences for both the health of Americans and the health of the American economy. At this point, the only recourse Americans have to prevent the implementation of Obamacare is to defeat its namesake at the polls. However, we can’t escape the fact that Romney implemented a health care plan in Massachusetts with an individual mandate. Nor can we escape the fact that Romney said he likes mandates and probably still does. Romney can’t change his political past, but he can define his political future and reframe the issue. The best way he can do that is by offering Americans a choice where it concerns our health care.
Simply put, Romney must put forward an alternative to Obamacare. While Paul Ryan and Ron Wyden have good ideas when it comes to reforming Medicare, it won’t be sufficient for Romney merely to embrace their bi-partisan efforts. Romney must put his own stamp on health care. The centerpiece of Romney’s plan ought to be to allow health insurance companies to compete across state lines. Not only could Romney argue that this would lower the cost of health care, but he could argue that his plan would give Americans more options with health insurance. Romney could say something along the lines of, “My plan would give Americans the opportunity to buy the health insurance plan of their choice. President Obama’s plan forces Americans to buy health insurance plans they don’t want.”
By making choice and competition the centerpiece of his health care plan, Romney can make the case that it won’t be necessary for his administration to issue waivers because no one will be compelled to buy health insurance they don’t want. Romney could also make an issue of the Obama Administration issuing waivers to the SEIU and other organizations that advocated for Obamacare. He could argue, “If Obamacare is so fantastic, then why do the very people who advocated it want no part of it? And if they want no part of Obamacare, then why should any other American?”
In the week following the Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare, it has been Romney and not Obama who has been on the defensive. It ought to be the other way around, and it can be if Romney so chooses. All he has to do is present Americans with a health care plan that is better than Obamacare. How difficult can that be?