The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate as early as Thursday, and the decision could have a profound impact on both the presidential race's arc and Obama's reelection chances in November.
Previously, I covered the positives surrounding the SCOTUS decision; no matter which way they decide, the decision will effect the public policy of American health care. But, if the ruling comes down against the constitutionality of forcing a private good on every American, the next 4 months of presidential campaigning will be changed for both the president and Mitt Romney.
A favorite talking point for candidate Romney and the popular rallying cry for the GOP has been overturning "Obamacare", which they claim is the cornerstone of Obama's socialist agenda. To make no mention of the ridiculous nature of this claim, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) having it's teeth removed this close to the election would pull health coverage from millions of Americans, including myself, and force Romney to come up with alternate legislation. Health care would be thrust to the forefront of the debate overnight, and Romney would not be able to dodge specific questions on the topic like he has consistently been able to do with other legislation, such as the Lilly Leadbetter Act, America's role in the Arab Spring, or the very recent immigration reform. Romney's entire campaign thus far has been about shadow games -- taking the stance opposite any Obama move and removing himself from providing concrete answers to policy questions. If the ACA is overturned by the Supreme Court, Romney would be forced to propose a specific alternative and abandon Solyndra and class warfare talk. The increasingly far-right crowd will rally regardless, but an undecided voter could likely be turned off by anything Romney comes up with, especially considering he implemented a statewide health care mandate but would now be forced to take the position opposite the president's.
On the Obama campaign side, there's no doubt that an "unconstitutional" ruling would deal a blow to Obama's biggest achievement in his first term. Health care reform has been attempted many times in Washington, and Obama was the one to get it done. Whether you like the Affordable Care Act or not, it was a grand accomplishment considering the increasingly hostile nature of left and right politics in America today, and overturning the ACA would work wonders to fire up the liberal base.
As previously stated, the revived debate about the future of health care reform would hopefully signal a pivot by the president to a public option, which would be a brilliant campaign move since most Americans favor as much. Nobody knows if "plan B" for Obama health care policy would entail the public option, but the debate would be framed solely by the position he takes in the following weeks, and that would give the Obama campaign the upper-hand. The negative for the president however, is how independents and undecided voters see a blow to Obama's already shaky record, and whether striking the reform from law could signal even more problems in "getting anything done" should he win a second term.
As of now, the SCOTUS ruling is wide open -- with prognosticators from both sides claiming all sorts of certainties. So if, on the other hand, the court comes down in favor of the individual mandate's constitutionality, I don't believe much will change in terms of the 2012 campaign. Not many voters are lacking an opinion of the legislation or of the candidates themselves, and if the status quo is rubber-stamped by the SCOTUS, expect the Romney camp to keep harping on day-one's agenda and the Obama camp to wave their collective flag. Either way, Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity should be very entertaining the day the Court decision comes down -- whether that be Thursday, next Monday, or two weeks from now.