Even in Washington, a city where hyperbole rules, it still seems difficult to overstate how big a win the Supreme Court President Obama’s signature piece of domestic legislation is for the man in the Oval Office.
The Affordable Care Act is so identified with him, after all, that its opponents quickly dubbed it “Obamacare,” a term its supporters at first eschewed but later came to embrace.
Though it was only the narrowest of victories, a 5-4 decision with Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the majority, a win is a win. And it was a victory the president needed badly.
With the economic recovery still weak and likely to deliver some downside surprises in terms of the jobless numbers between now and November, the president is clearly vulnerable on that primary domestic issue.
A health care law loss for Obama would have strengthened the arguments of challenger Mitt Romney other Republicans that the president had foolishly squandered much of his early presidency on what turned out to be an unconstitutional expansion of federal power over the lives of Americans and the states.
The court’s decision Thursday, for all practical purposes, ends that argument, however, since whatever a majority of the court decides is constitutional is so by definition.
Instead, the decision allows the president to argue even more full-throatedly than he already has been doing on the campaign trail, that enacting the health care law was the “right thing to do.”
For some time after the controversial legislation passed in 2010, as it became clearer that the law was unpopular with many Americans across the political spectrum, Obama and other White House officials were reticent to the point of silence to talk about the law as an accomplishment.
In recent months, the president has included the law in his stump speeches in the litany of achievements from his time in office. The Supreme Court’s decision will let him pump up the volume even more.
Meanwhile, the decision could have the effect of boosting the spirits of Obama’s most loyal supporters, many of whom until the past year would say they didn’t feel like the president had given them much to cheer about.
The decision, however, is also already energizing the president’s opponents. House leaders have scheduled another vote to repeal the law, symbolic since it has no chance of being enacted. Romney’s campaign reported more than $100,000 in donations coming in right after the announcement.
What’s more, because Roberts found the individual mandate piece of the law to be constitutional under the federal government’s taxing power (the penalty for not having insurance should be read as a tax, he said) Republicans are counting on Obama being vulnerable to new charges that he’s raising taxes on the middle class.
That could be a powerful weapon, especially since the president vowed not to raise taxes on Americans making less than $250,000 a year.
One of the most important aspects of the court’s decision, for Obama at least, is that it ensures that a key piece of Obama’s legacy survives, at least until there comes a time — if it ever occurs — when a different president and different Congress have the votes to repeal it.