DCCC's Risky Business; Saluting Lipinski; Jujitsu Moves; Obamacare Anniversary
Good morning, it’s Friday, March 23, 2018. Eight years ago today, President Obama signed landmark legislation that simultaneously induced widespread reform, sweeping policy changes, and political chaos. Passed on virtually a straight party-line vote, it was officially called The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, but was instantly dubbed “Obamacare.”
Initially, this term was not a slur; it was mainly used by friendly journalists. It had been coined long before it was signed into law by the president -- even before the legislation was fashioned. (The phrase began appearing two years before Obama was inaugurated, if you can believe that.)
When Republicans who voted against it because using “Obamacare” as shorthand, Democrats initially expressed outrage. Whether their indignation was feigned or real, it became moot when the president himself started using the term. Why not? He was proud of the legislation and of his name, which I’m pretty sure is still the case.
In any event, some of its provisions were sufficiently novel, not to mention constitutionally inventive, that the law was challenged in federal court. Normally, this is the type of policy issue the U.S. Supreme Court prefers to let elected politicians sort out. But there was no avoiding this case, as subsequent events revealed.
I’ll have more on this topic in a moment. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:
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DCCC Boosts Texas Runoff Candidates, Risking Backlash. James Arkin has the story.
Why Lipinski’s Victory Matters. Evan Bayh applauds the Illinois congressman’s willingness to reach across the aisle in search of common ground, despite prevailing partisan winds.
Democrats’ Jujitsu on Immigration Reform. Dave Ray expresses frustration with the party’s inability to make good on longstanding promises to fix the system.
Birth and Rise of the Republican Party. In RealClearHistory, Richard Brownell traces the GOP's humble beginnings in a Wisconsin schoolhouse to its rise as a national political player.
Trump's War on Federalism. In RealClearPolicy, Ruben Pacheco examines the administration's aggressive approach to immigration enforcement.
Aspiring for Truth in the Attention Economy. Also in RCPolicy, Daniel P. Schmidt and Michael E. Hartmann consider the role of policy foundations in an era of social media and "fake news."
What’s Driving the Left's Critique of Trump's Tax Cuts? In RealClearMarkets, J.T. Young assesses the causes of the often-visceral opposition.
While Outing GOP's “Economic Zombies,” Paul Krugman Reveals His Own. Also in RCM, editor John Tamny asserts that the Princeton professor's partisanship gets in the way of his correct critique of Republican protectionism.
Russian Interference in U.S. Politics, 1977 Edition. In RealClearLife, Lee Ferran spotlights the Kremlin’s $100 million propaganda campaign to fuel American opposition to building and deploying neutron bombs.
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The civics question surrounding enactment of the Affordable Care Act was whether such a massive government-ordered policy -- restructuring the nation’s medical care delivery systems -- should be done on a completely partisan basis on Capitol Hill and at the White House.
Republicans’ answer to that question was no, obviously, and theirs is a position with obvious logic and much historical merit. The Democrats’ rejoinder was sensible, too, however. In their telling, the festering problems with the status quo were manifest, creating crises in millions of American families while Republicans sat by passively.
Those problems included the following: 50 million Americans without health insurance; a threshold for access to Medicaid that was too high for the working poor; a system that kicks people off their insurance when they need it most -- namely, when they are seriously ill; a link between employment and medical insurance that had warped both the job market and the nation’s health care system.
The Democrats’ solution was a new law with two major components. The first was expanding Medicaid -- government-paid health care for the poor -- to those in the lower end of the middle class. Since Medicaid is administered by the states, Obamacare made billions of dollars in federal money available to states that agreed to expand the program to cover families and individuals earning up to 135 percent of the poverty rate. The second, and more famous, part of Obamacare was a vast system designed to provide every American with medical care. Part of the way it did this was to require them, under penalty of a fine, to purchase health insurance.
Problems arose immediately. Premiums increased across the board, often significantly. The networks, called “exchanges,” set up to deal with those purchasing private insurance, were plagued with problems. The president’s vow that every American who already had health plans could keep them -- and keep their doctors -- turned out to be untrue.
We’ve been fighting over this policy ever since, and continue to do so, in our usual partisan fashion: Democrats on one side, telling only their side of the story; Republicans on the other, marshaling only the facts that underscore their position.
But the two primary constitutional questions posed by the new law have been settled. The first was the section of Obamacare that gave the federal government the ability to withhold all Medicaid funding from states that opted out of the Medicaid expansion. Was this legal, given that Medicaid was an entitlement program created with different legislation? The second great question was whether Congress went too far in mandating that all citizens purchase health care insurance. Did the Constitution preclude just that kind of sweeping action from Congress?
Several legal challenges were consolidated into a single case, and nearly six years ago, in the summer of an election year, it was decided.
On June 28, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the stick portion of the carrot-and-stick approach the Democrats’ used to expand Medicaid was unconstitutionally coercive: Obamacare could offer the carrot -- more money for states that did expand the program -- but could not withhold money already mandated by another law to those that didn’t.
On the far sexier question of whether the individual mandate violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, the court upheld Obamacare on a 5-4 vote. The court’s four liberals backed the administration, while the three conservatives and Anthony Kennedy -- normally the swing vote -- sided with Obamacare’s Republican opponents. The deciding vote was Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who used some creative jurisprudence to get there. The individual mandate is not an unconstitutional government “command to buy insurance.” Rather, he reasoned, it’s simply a tax, which falls under Congress’ correct purview.
The ruling outraged movement conservatives, many of whom denounced Roberts, and left liberal Democrats nonplused. Many of these Democrats had been attacking the legitimacy of the high court, either in anticipation of losing the case or in an effort to exert pressure on the justices.
To my knowledge, none of these actors ever apologized to the chief justice, but that goes with the territory, especially when the court is dealing with issues of major significance in pending presidential elections. It’s happened before.
The Supreme Court held off delivering the notorious Dred Scott decision until after the 1856 presidential election -- Republicans claimed this was to ensure a Democratic victory -- but its 1857 ruling still didn’t go down very well.
Plessy v. Ferguson, the notorious 1896 case in which the Supreme Court blew it on Jim Crow, was handed down in the midst of the election between William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley, an Ohio Republican whose progressive views on race helped him win handily.
In May of 1948, in Shelley v. Kraemer, the court tossed out racial real estate covenants in a decision that alienated Dixiecrats but foreshadowed Harry Truman’s stance on race -- and his razor-close election victory.
It was during a midterm election, not a presidential one, but in June 1962 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Engel v. Vitale that it was unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official prayer, even if it was ecumenical in nature, and require or even encourage students to recite it in public schools.
In the confusing Furman v. Georgia ruling on June 29, 1972, the high court invalidated the nation’s death penalty statutes -- playing into “law and order” candidate Richard Nixon’s landslide re-election.
The Supreme Court follows the election returns, Finley Peter Dunne’s “Mr. Dooley” noted a century ago. Yes, but often it’s the other way around.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics