Saturday, June 30, 2012

Getting Real about the Supreme Court Decision on “Obamacare”

The furious kerfuffle over the surprise Supreme Court decision on Thursday to uphold the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is, I'm sorry to say, just so delusional.

For some time now, 24-hour cable news shows have filtered every conceivable political issue through the tired political frame that we can all understand: Democrats versus Republicans, Obama/Kerry/Gore/Clinton versus Romney/McCain/Bush I/Bush II/Reagan, blue states versus red states, Maddow/Moore versus Limbaugh/Beck.  The never-ending culture wars help to flesh out the details of this tired battlefield (think: Fox commentators’ fake conniption fits over Michelle Obama wanting to force-feed us broccoli). 

The reality is that most everything coming out of Washington these days can, and probably should, be understood through an economic lens.  

The recent Supreme Court ruling upholding Obamacare is a perfect example of this.  Once the cable news shows calmed down enough to accurately report the ruling, the partisan hackery issued forth.  Predictably, right-wing pundits became apoplectic over Chief Justice John Roberts’ supposed betrayal of the movement in joining the liberal faction of the Court to uphold the law.  Michael Savage (who, hilariously, has been banned from travel to the U.K. for hate speech) suggested that John Roberts had temporarily lost his cognitive function, purportedly due to his epilepsy medication.   Comparisons were made with 9/11, the Dred Scott decision, and fascism.  Still others called him a traitor to the conservative cause.  Either way, there is broad agreement across the right-wing blogosphere that it is a dark day for America (and freedom and liberty, etc., etc.). 

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers have hailed the decision as a “great victory” and a “landmark ruling”; pundits are already discussing the edge this is likely to give Obama in the fall elections.  

However, it is worth reflecting for a moment on the nature of this law and how we got to where we are.  Whether Roberts ruled this way because he is concerned about the legitimacy of a too-conservative-seeming Court or because he is fighting a longer battle to gut the Commerce clause and thereby curtail the power of the federal government  or because he is simply pro-corporatist, the ACA is far cry from the original public option, which itself is a far cry from universal single-payer health care.

As anyone who has followed this debate well knows, so-called Obamacare is in fact based on a conservative plan developed in the 1990s partly by the Heritage Foundation in response to skyrocketing health care costs; it was intended to preempt Democratic efforts to develop a universal health care plan that Republicans feared would have a bigger role for the federal government.  Newt Gingrich gave it his full support back in the day, and Mitt Romney oversaw the implementation of a similar plan in Massachusetts when he was governor of that state.

Despite certain very helpful provisions in the ACA to help individual policy-holders (ensuring coverage of one’s children up to the age of 26, no denial of coverage for preexisting conditions), the law basically establishes a market for purchasing private insurance, which (apart from the individual mandate--also featured the original Heritage plan) is fully consistent with conservative principles and as far from a socialized health care system as can be imagined.

Which makes all the right-wing wailing and gnashing of teeth silly nonsense.  It also means John Roberts’ action was not a betrayal of conservativism at all, and, yes, it means that the Democrats’ apparent victory (for, let’s be honest, a Republican health care plan) rings fairly hollow.

Who is the real winner here?  That would be insurance companies who stand to gain 32 million new customers thanks to the new health care law.   This much is clear.