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.”
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.”
Supporters of Obama-care claim it will raise enough taxes and cut enough spending not to add much to the deficit. That’s doubtful. But with federal bureaucrats in charge of cutting hundreds of billions from Medicare to pay for Obama-care, heavy-duty rationing of health care is always a possibility. That would, if anything, make the law even more unpopular than it already is.
As important as the high cost was in turning the public against Obama-care in 2009, social issues may have played a bigger role. The bill didn’t almost die in an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress because it spent or taxed too much. Obama-care was nearly sunk because it allows taxpayer money to be used to purchase health insurance policies that cover abortion on demand.
Some pro-life Democrats eventually caved and voted for Obama-care in exchange for an executive order that didn’t even pretend to solve their primary problem with the bill. Now the Obama administration has mandated that private insurance plans, including those of religious institutions, must cover, at no cost to the recipient, abortion-inducing drugs, as well as contraception and sterilization procedures. Polls show a divided electorate on the “contraception mandate,” but 60 to 70 percent of voters oppose public funding of abortion.
The abortion issue is a big reason running against Obama-care may be better for Mitt Romney than “the economy” in general. The view from the top of the Romney campaign is that pro-lifers are going to vote for them no matter what, so it should focus on swing voters who are primarily motivated by the economy and jobs. Activists may vote for Romney no matter what, but there are indeed swing voters who are conservative on social issues though not on fiscal issues.
The Pew Research Center calls these voters “Disaffecteds.” They are lower income, distrustful of corporations, want government to spend more on the poor, and don’t want to see changes to Medicare or Social Security. They are also socially conservative, religious, and distrustful of government. Dis-affecteds voted for John McCain over Barack Obama by a 16-point margin in 2008, but voted for Republicans over Democrats by a 38-point margin in 2010. Running against Obamacare could help keep these Disaffecteds in the Republican fold in 2012.
The good news for foes of the law is that most of its provisions—most of the taxes, spending, regulations, and abortion-funding—don’t kick in until after the election. But therein lies the challenge for Republicans rebutting Democratic pleas to “move on.” Voters won’t immediately feel or see the negative effects of the law before November. They will need to be reminded of the many reasons to stop Obamacare before it’s too late.
John McCormack is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.