Robert Bennett: Regardless of Supreme Court's ruling, health care still needs reform
Charles Dharapak, File, Associated Press
The Supreme Court will not announce its decision on Obamacare until June, but pundits on both sides of the political spectrum have rushed to judgment. They are writing as if the decision has already been made — the Court is going to rule against the administration, and strike down the law — and are giving us a spate of contradictory predictions about the consequences.
James Carville says that having the Court rule the act unconstitutional would be "the best thing that could happen to the Democratic Party." It would energize Democrats and wavering independents to turn out in record numbers in November, giving the Democrats a landslide win.
Others say that losing this case would be "a train wreck for the administration." It would destroy Obama's most visible legislative accomplishment and diminish his stature so much that he would have no chance at re-election.
Then there are those who say that removing the law from the books would remove the issue from the campaign. Republicans couldn't rail against it and Democrats wouldn't have to defend it.
Interesting theories all, but beside the point.
First, the game isn't over. While oral arguments give an indication of how the Justices are thinking, they are not conclusive. And the fact that the Solicitor General didn't do very well doesn't necessarily mean that the Justices will ignore the formal briefs that have been filed in his support; blowing your moment before the Supreme Court is not like stumbling on "Dancing With the Stars." There is a lot of analysis, discussion, writing and re-writing of opinions to be done before there is a final decision.
Next, all of these comments about the impact of the decision are political, tied to the election. None address the question of what needs to be done about our present health care situation. The questions asked by the Court showed that that subject is on the Justices' minds.
So, in that regard, I will make my own prediction: No matter what the Court finally decides, the law will not survive in its present form.
The Court may strike it down in its entirety, in which case it simply disappears. The Court may strike down some of it and uphold some of it, in which case it will be fundamentally changed. Or, the Court may uphold it in its entirety, in which case it will bump up against the reality of its own internal problems.
Its accounting is deeply suspect and its projected impact on the federal budget is totally unrealistic. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who has been a governor, said during the debate that any senator who voted for the bill should be sentenced to serve a term as governor of his or her state because the law, if unchanged, will bankrupt every state in the Union. It significantly expands Medicaid, which is already the largest single expenditure in every state's budget, without providing realistic ways of paying for it. It also changes Medicare in ways that are not financially feasible. It is so complicated that no one really understands all its details, as Justice Scalia pointed out.
That's why Obamacare as currently written isn't sustainable, but neither is the system we had before it was passed. Regardless of the Court's decision, the next Congress is going to have to address the issue and make some hard decisions. Rather than speculate about who is helped and who is hurt at the ballot box by the Court's action, the various presidential campaigns should be focusing on what needs to be done to solve the problem no matter what the Court does.
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