Plans haven’t yet begun for the monument to John Roberts on the National Mall. These things take time. A location will have to be found, somewhere between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Cutting-edge architect Frank Gehry will have to be diverted from his work on the Eisenhower Memorial to create an appropriately convoluted design to mark the chief justice’s twisted reasoning.
Until the groundbreaking, liberals must content themselves with bestowing national sainthood on Roberts and with declaring the health-care debate definitively over. It’s time for everyone to accept a new $1 trillion entitlement profoundly affecting the direction of American health care and focus on issues of concern to every civic-minded American, such as: Did Mitt Romney outsource a call center as Massachusetts governor?
The question of Obamacare has been declared final repeatedly and consistently. During the debate over its passage, it was always one more Obama speech from being settled once and for all. Afterward, Democrats predicted there was no way to repeal it, and its popularity was just around the corner. The court challenge was pooh-poohed as another instance of futile resistance. Now that the law has barely hung on thanks to the Roberts triple lutz, the state of the debate is said to be — as ever — over.
If so, supporters have lost it in the arena of public opinion. Upon its passage, the New York Times/CBS poll found that it had 32 percent support. Before the Supreme Court decision, the New York Times/CBS poll found its support essentially unchanged at 34 percent. A different poll — from Reuters/Ipsos — detected a bump in support for the law after the decision from 43 percent to 48 percent. But a majority, 52 percent, still disapproved of it in the immediate wake of headlines about the Supreme Court’s blessing.
The law has lacked popular legitimacy from the beginning, and it is still struggling for it. Its major features are yet to be implemented. Republicans remain unified in their opposition and their commitment to repeal. The cry that the debate is over is an attempt to short-circuit that very debate in a self-fulfilling prophecy. To listen to liberals, you would think that only a lack of prescience kept Ben Franklin from noting that nothing is inevitable except death, taxes, gay marriage, and Obamacare.
The law is hardly the picture of stability. States have been slow to set up the complex insurance exchanges as stipulated by the law. If they don’t, the federal government will be hard-pressed to set up the exchanges on its own. As amended by John Roberts, the law is even more unstable. He gives states the option to refuse the law’s Medicaid expansion. He weakens the individual mandate. Both of the Roberts changes mean the law may ultimately cover fewer people.
Mitt Romney pledges that if he is elected, he will act to repeal it on his first day in office. That’s a tall order, even with a Republican House and a narrowly Republican Senate. But between legislative action, the resistance of Republican governors, and the flexibility accorded bureaucrats by the law, it can effectively be rendered a dead letter over time.
How about all the wonders of the law? Doesn’t it reduce the deficit? Only under optimistic Congressional Budget Office projections. Doesn’t it keep young adults up to the age of 26 on their parents’ insurance plans? Most insurance companies will probably do this anyway. The two central selling points of the law — insuring millions more people and keeping people with pre-existing conditions from getting locked out of insurance — can be addressed with policies that are cheaper and less disruptive (a tax credit for purchase of insurance and high-risk pools, respectively).
When they set out to pass health-care reform, Democrats could have built public support for a sweeping law, or scaled back their ambitions. They did neither. Their insistence that the debate is over is a function of their continued failure to win genuine acceptance of the law. It’s still up in the air, even after the great John Roberts has spoken.