Despite the political and legislative implications of upholding Obamacare, a panel of legal and healthcare experts said they expected the Supreme Court to focus solely on the legal arguments of the case during next week’s hearing on the contentious healthcare reform law.
At an American Action Forum discussion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – AKA Obamacare – Wednesday morning, the panel discussed the main legal arguments and key questions coming before the Court.
National Federation of Independent Business‘s Karen Harned kicked off the event, noting that other policy options exist for achieving the goals of the law’s individual mandate’s (the part of the law that requires all Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine), and without the mandate, neither the ACA nor similar legislation would have ever passed in Congress.
Following Harned’s opening statement Politico’s Alexander Burns moderated the dialogue between American Action Forum President and former Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Doug Holtz-Eakin and former Supreme Court clerks Steven Engel and John Bash. Engel is a former clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy and Bash is a former clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia. Holtz-Eakin has filed amicus briefs against the individual mandate in the case, the Medicaid expansion and severability of the individual mandate from the rest of the law. Generally conservatives argue that if the individual mandate portion of the law is struck down, then the rest of the law must be struck down, too – a position Holtz-Eakin and American Action Forum support.
All of the panelists agreed that Supreme Court decisions are difficult to predict, especially this one. On one hand the case concerns an unprecedented expansion of government authority over individuals and states, but on the other, the Court has a history of upholding broad powers of federal regulation.
Last week prominent polling company Rasmussen reported that only 28 percent of likely voters gave the Supreme Court good or excellent ratings. Nevertheless, Engel and Bash said they believe the legitimacy of the Court will withstand any fallout from those unhappy with the final ruling on the case despite the controversy surrounding the law.
Holtz-Eakin spoke to the political implications of varying decisions and said he believes that, either way it goes, Obama will stop talking about his unpopular law.
In a situation where the entire law falls, Holtz-Eakin predicted Republican legislators would keep some of the ACA’s popular provisions, such as allowing young adults under 26 to remain on their parents’ plans. He also predicted that because there is bipartisan agreement on the need for reform, health reform would certainly be addressed soon after. Holtz-Eakin further emphasized that substantial and durable reforms are always bipartisan, which is why broad support is crucial for such significant reform.
After the panel Utah Governor Gary Herbert gave remarks on current state of America’s health care system and the reforms Republican Governor’s believe the system needs on behalf of the Republican Governors Association’s (RGA). Governor Herbert agreed with Holtz-Eakin that one of the key disappointments of the ACA was Congress’ failure to enact bipartisan reform and noted how “egregious” it was that Governors were not invited to weigh in, though many of the law’s provisions affect the states as much or more than they do the federal government. He then spoke about RGA’s goals for health reform – goals he said he hopes will resonate among both parties. Key themes included a focus on healthier populations, individual incentives and flexibility for state innovation, with an eye on reducing our unsustainable debt.
Clearly the Supreme Court’s review of Obamacare will be incredibly significant and the decision will set a precedent either for or against immense increases in federal powers. It will also have huge implications for the healthcare system and result in legal and political consequences that will impact policy for years to come. And if attendance at Wednesday’s lead-up events were any indication, the country’s eyes will be on the Supreme Court next week, after which it will anxiously await the Court’s June decision.