“It’s constitutional. Bitches.” —Patrick Gaspard, Executive Director, DNC
Obamacare lives. And, with it, Barack Obama’s case for a second term.
In laying the groundwork for 2012, Obama and Mitt Romney have had dueling imperatives: The president needs to make sure that the November election is a choice. Romney needs to make it an up-or-down referendum.
In Team Obama’s frame, choosing to reelect the president is a vote to continue moving “Forward”; choosing Romney is a vote to return to the policies that created our current pain.
That frame only works, however, if you can demonstrate that you’re, in fact, creating forward progress that’s easing the pain. And June has been a hazardous month for that narrative. The nation’s slow, steady economic recovery appeared to stall out. Job growth flatlined. Then Obama gaffed, calling the private sector’s stagnating performance “fine.”
The June gloom played right into Team Romney’s frame: “Obama isn’t working.” The president hasn’t delivered. You need to vote him out of office (by, oh yeah, voting for me.) The upshot of this referendum model is that you don’t even have to like Romney, just so long as you want to oust Obama.
Now, imagine for a moment that the president’s signature legislative accomplishment had gone down the tubes this morning, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the dissenters in finding the Affordable Care Act “invalid in its entirety.“
The Romney camp could have rightly blasted Obama for two years of wasted effort.
An economy treading water. An historic legacy invalidated. Nothing about that says “Forward.” It would have said “Fail.” Yes, Obama has bin Laden’s scalp, but even Jimmy Carter had Camp David.
The death of Obamacare would have underscored the Romney frame: It’s time to kick this guy out of office. (Don’t look too closely at me.)
But that’s not what happened: Chief Justice Roberts, with a keen eye toward the legacy of the Roberts Court, broke boldly from his Federalist Society frat brothers and tailored a narrow decision that allowed Obamacare to stand — on a technicality: The individual mandate to buy health care is constitutional when considered strictly as a matter of taxation, not regulated commerce.
Obama’s historic legislative legacy is now secured. He cleared, by the narrowest of margins, a high bar for universal health care set by generations of Democrats.
And his reelection frame has been strengthened immeasurably.
The president can now run on the popular forward progress already brought by Obamacare: Millions of young adults insured on their parents’ plans; millions of seniors benefitting from reduced prescription drug costs; the end of lifetime caps on insurance coverage.
He can also campaign on the progress yet to come, starting with the millions who will be receiving a rebate check this summer from their insurers for excessive administrative costs, as well as the “Big Fucking Deal” provisions that would kick in during Obama’s second term: An end to insurance denials based on preexisting conditions; new health care markets for individual purchasers; and generous premium supports for those buying policies.
What’s more, the Romney campaign is now enthusiastically reinforcing the president’s Forward/Backward narrative by jumping on the #FullRepeal bandwagon, promising to undo Obamacare.
Instead of talking about the economy and how he’s got the right experience to get the private sector moving, it’s now Romney who will be wasting time trying to refight the battles of 2009, seeking to reverse course on a health care law that’s modelled on his own (highly successful) reforms in Massachusetts.
Romney’s hopes of turning 2012 into a referendum on Obama’s failed presidency have been dashed. Today’s Supreme Court decision may not have quite enshrined Obama in the club of Democratic lions FDR and LBJ. But with Obamacare cemented, BHO has certainly put the specter of Jimmy Carter in the rearview mirror.
Whatever economic struggles face the nation come November, voters will now have a choice to make: