The validation of the health reform legislation by the US Supreme Court became an item of immediate interest to anyone concerned with the upcoming presidential and congressional elections in November. Health reform legislation has been a major achievement of the Obama administration; a rejection by the Supreme Court could have dealt a telling blow to Democratic chances. Is the converse true? Does the validation of the health reform legislation necessarily augur well for the Democrats in November? Probably, but not necessarily.
The mandate of the US Supreme Court is very limited. Its principal function is to deal with cases that have, as a central issue, a question concerning constitutional interpretation. Often this deals with jurisdictional issues: did Congress have the requisite authority by the US Constitution to pass the legislation? Do the particular features of this health reform legislation, which include imposing a required payment even from individuals who do not wish to avail themselves of the services offered by the legislation, pass constitutional muster? Is this type of legislation the type that should be within the exclusive purview of the several states, as opposed to the federal government? Even if the federal government does indeed have the constitutional authority to enact such legislation in general, did the federal government overreach in its specific provisions?
The answers provided by the Supreme Court, to questions similar to the above, are of high importance to legislators and to constitutional law professors, but they do not touch the key issues that are important to voters. They did not go into the question of whether the legislation is a good idea or not, whether the legislation presents the best form of coverage or whether it should go further. The Supreme Court merely found that Congress did indeed have the power to pass the law, but not whether it works well or should work better. (It did modify a portion of the law, but left most of the legislation intact.)
The health reform law is a political product. It was born of a severe political struggle between the two political parties, with the Republicans fighting the legislation tooth and nail. The Supreme Court said that the legislation is appropriate. Perhaps now, the Republicans will do the unexpected: accept health Reform and work to improve it for the general welfare of the People. The Republicans’ continued antipathy to this good and much-needed legislation could result in public rejection of a political party that does not have the best public interest at heart. If this occurs, the Supreme Court approbation could prove to be significant to the election.
A curious impact of the Supreme Court’s decision is the wedge that it drives between conservative Republicans and their standard-bearer. Conservative Republicans, who have hijacked the party, continue to oppose health reform, and even want to dismantle other successful and efficient programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Mitt Romney supports the health reform; as governor of Massachusetts, he enacted one of the first state versions of a universal health care system. How will conservative Republicans promote Romney as a good leader, while opposing him on so important an issue as Health Reform? This should be fun to watch.