Electoral Impact of ObamaCare Case

The Supreme Court’s announcement today that it will review the constitutionality of ObamaCare ensures that the health care law will be one of the biggest issues in next year’s presidential and Congressional elections.  Federalism – including the Tenth Amendment and Congress’ enumerated powers – will also be a prominent election issue because the Court’s decision will have even larger implications than the fate of ObamaCare.  The decision will answer the momentous and timely question of whether there are any real limits on the federal government’s power over states and individuals. See here for my recent op-ed exploring the additional cases that will make this the most politically important Supreme Court term in decades.

The prominence of ObamaCare in the 2012 elections is good news on its face for conservatives, but it’s hard to know which way the issue will ultimately cut.  That depends, in part, on what the Supreme Court decides.

If the Supreme Court upholds ObamaCare in its entirety, it will be seen as a victory for Obama and Congressional Democrats, which would likely provide them with some electoral momentum.  On the other hand, such a decision by the Court would throw responsibility for reforming or repealing ObamaCare entirely on the shoulders of the new Congress and President, thus making it an even bigger political issue.  That might be bad news for Democrats given ObamaCare’s continual poor showing in the polls.

Conversely, if the High Court strikes down ObamaCare in its entirety, it would be a victory for Republicans, giving them the electoral momentum, but at the same time largely depriving them of one of their best election issues.

The third possibility is that the Supreme Court will strike down one or more of the challenged ObamaCare provisions – the individual insurance mandate or the expansion of Medicaid – but leave much of the statute in effect.  That might be the best case for Republicans.  They would be able to say “I told you so,” while the campaign’s focus would be riveted on how to repair the shattered statute, with Democrats on the defensive.

It looks like which outcome to root for in the Supreme Court depends on whether you’re most concerned about ObamaCare or the 2012 elections.