The Magazine

The GOP’s Big Tent

Opposition to Obamacare unites Republicans.

Jul 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 42 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

When the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on June 28 to let Obama-care stand, President Obama said that “it’s time for us to move forward.” Harry Reid implored his colleagues and countrymen to “move on to other things,” and Nancy Pelosi said that “for the American people, yes, the fight is over.”

Sign protesting Obamacare


It’s no surprise that Democrats would want to move on from an issue that caused 63 of their House seats and 7 of their Senate seats to flip to the Republicans in 2010. The last time Republicans took control of the House of Representatives from Democrats was 1994, the year when, after 40 straight years of control of the House, Democrats unsuccessfully tried to pass a national health care bill. You may detect a pattern.

So it was a little puzzling to see an anonymous “veteran Republican campaign consultant” tell the New York Times before the House voted to repeal Obama-care on July 11 that Republicans would be wise to take the president’s advice and move on from the issue. “Any time Republicans are debating taxes and the economy, we’re winning,” said the GOP consultant. “Any time we’re debating health care, they’re winning.”

To the contrary, Obama-care is still the most toxic issue for Democrats in 2012. Polling shows that likely voters strongly favor repeal. A Newsweek poll taken after the Supreme Court ruling showed only 37 percent of likely voters approved of Obama’s handling of health care while 58 percent disapproved. Obama’s handling of the economy was viewed more favorably—47 percent approved while -49 percent disapproved.

Obama-care not only causes voters to worry about losing their health insurance or seeing premiums skyrocket, it unites center-right voters who care about a wide range of issues. The law alienates the anti-taxers and the budget hawks, religious conservatives and social moderates, the elderly who face Medicare rationing and the young who are mandated to buy expensive insurance they do not need. Opposition to Obama-care is what holds up the GOP’s big tent.

In the wake of Chief Justice John Roberts’s jesuitical ruling that Obama-care is a constitutional tax, rather than an unconstitutional mandate, the political debate narrowly focused on whether Obama-care is in fact “a tax.” After his campaign stumbled for a few days over the issue, Mitt Romney said, “Well, the Supreme Court has the final word. And their final word is that Obama-care is a tax. So it’s a tax.”

But Obama-care is not just “a tax”—it’s a hodgepodge of 21 taxes, according to Americans for Tax Reform, on everything from investment income and tanning salons to medical devices, over-the-counter medications, and “Cadil-lac” health insurance plans.

Even though it will hit only the small number of Americans who don’t purchase health insurance, the individual mandate is one of the least popular parts of the bill. But in an economy with 8.2 percent unemployment, Obama-care’s employer mandate may be far worse than the individual mandate. The law imposes a $2,000- to $3,000-per-job tax on businesses that employ 50 or more people but do not provide health insurance. For employers who currently provide health coverage, Obama-care threatens to drive up the cost of insurance, leading to lower wages and fewer jobs. “I won’t add [jobs] back until I know. The cost of employment includes health care,” Ray Van Ness, a small business owner in Shreveport, Louisiana, told the Shreveport Times in June. “I really won’t know the full weight until it unfolds over the next couple of years.”

Republicans are eager to fight Obama on his plans to raise income taxes on those earning more than $250,000 (including businesses that file as individuals). But they would seem to be on more solid ground running against the tax hikes Obama has already passed that need to be repealed rather than ones he is proposing that will likely never take effect.

Then there’s Obama-care’s eye-popping price tag. According to the Congressional Budget Office, during the first decade when it’s in full effect (2014 to 2023), Obama-care will cost about $2 trillion. That’s a lot of money. A decade of Obama-care will cost five times more than the Medicare prescription-drug benefit or two-and-a-half times the financial cost of the Iraq war. A decade of Obama-care will cost four times Greece’s total public debt.

And the $2 trillion estimate is likely much too low. Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the federal government can’t deny states all Medicaid funds if they refuse to expand Medicaid, “up to 17 million people will go on Obama-care instead of Medicaid,” says House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan. “We haven’t begun to quantify the cost-explosion that’s going to happen.”

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers