Republicans have moved mountains to stop health care reform from becoming reality: first fighting to block its passage, then its implementation. Along the way, they galvanized their conservative base and won sweeping electoral victories in 2010, including reclaiming the House. Now they’re salivating over the possibility that the Supreme Court will dismantle the law, handing them the huge ideological victory they’ve been eyeing for three years. But some Republicans view the case as a “Be careful what you wish for” situation — they fear a big win at the court could also mean losses in November.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a tea party darling and ardent reform opponent, voiced concern last week that a Supreme Court rejection of health care reform would virtually guarantee President Obama would win a second term.
“I think then that there is more risk that President Obama will be reelected” if the law is overturned, King said at a Capitol Hill news conference last Wednesday. “Because people will think they are protected from this egregious reach into our freedom.” Conversely, he argued, “If the Supreme Court finds it constitutional, then I believe President Obama will not be reelected because [voters] will understand that they have to vote him out of office to repeal it.”
The Supreme Court taking reform off the table would rob Republicans of what they believe is a galvanizing issue. “The advantage to Republicans right now is the issue,” Republican strategist Tom Ingram told TPM, echoing King’s reasoning. “If it’s overturned, it would take an issue away from the Republicans that they’re creating a lot of energy around right now.”
If the law is upheld, not only can Republicans continue to rally for its repeal, but it would also hand them a companion issue to campaign on: Supreme Court justices.
“The appointment of Supreme Court justices is a huge issue to conservatives,” said Ingram. “If the court upholds the law, they could get even more motivated against Obama because of his ability to appoint more Supreme Court justices.” In all, Ingram said, “I think if it’s upheld, it’s a net win for the Republicans.”
Democrats, too, see a silver lining in a loss at the Supreme Court. Just as upholding the law would energize Republicans, a repeal would fire up Democrats, Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told TPM.
“I think this will be the best thing that has ever happened to the Democratic Party,” Democratic strategist James Carville agreed on CNN Tuesday. But Carville had a slightly different take, arguing that a repeal would leave Republicans solely to blame for the state of health care in America.
“You know, what the Democrats are going to say, and it is completely justified, ‘We tried, we did something, go see a 5-4 Supreme Court majority,’” Carville said. “Then the Republican Party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future. And I really believe that.”
Democrats are certainly proceeding with that assumption, labeling repeal efforts as an attempt to unwind popular reforms the law put in place.
“Maybe I’m just one person saying this, but the more Republicans and the candidates they have for president are out there talking about repealing the health care bill, I say, give ‘em more rope. Maybe I should buy their ads for them,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said at a press conference Tuesday. The Affordable Care Act, though it won’t be fully implemented until 2014, is no longer abstract, Harkin said. Think of the millions of Americans already “whose young people are on their parents’ policies until the age of 26 — they’ll take that away from them. Think about all the young people today who are covered with insurance even though they had a pre-existing condition,” Harkin said. “So I say to Republicans, ‘Make our day, go out there and continue to campaign against this health care bill.’”
For this reason, Democrats don’t think that upholding the law would give Republicans a chance to repeat their 2010 electoral sweep based on renewed pledges to repeal the law. Rep. Brad Miller, (D-NC), one of many Democrats who went home to his district in the summer of 2009 and was confronted with angry voters taking over town hall meetings, said he doesn’t think those episodes will repeat themselves. He pointed to the “6,400 young adults who have health insurance and would not otherwise have it. There are almost 8,000 seniors who have a prescription drug discount.” The long list of people already benefiting from the law, Miller said, means repeal “is not going to be an issue that will work in their favor.”
Ingram thinks Democrats have a point. Republicans have pledged to go through with a repeal if the court strikes down the mandate but upholds the rest of the law.
“I think the mandate is the big issue,” he said. But “there are also other issues that people do like, like 26-year-olds,” he said, referring to the Affordable Care Act’s provision, already in effect, that allows young people under 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance plans.
If the law is upheld, this election cycle could be Republicans’ last chance to campaign on the issue. Miller believes that the law will only grow more popular with time. “I think that once it goes into effect [in 2014], it will be untouchable,” he said.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.