A Court Decision For History Books
T he story of the Affordable Care Act was already loaded with ironies. But the law's astounding and historic Supreme Court victory of Thursday laid on other major ones.
The biggest pre-existing irony, of course, goes like this: The law, whose defeat has become the Republican Party's fondest objective in this election year, was modeled closely after a Massachusetts law championed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney - who is now that party's national standard-bearer. Romney has never quite succeeded in explaining that contradiction away.
Here's the other underlying irony: President Obama originally wanted a single-payer system, roughly the same thing as putting everyone on Medicare. But in the interest of a one-sided "compromise," Obama went along with the concept of a "universal mandate" - favored by Republicans since it would keep most coverage in the hands of private-sector insurance corporations. Thus did a GOP idea, once this Democratic president had embraced it, become a socialistic plot.
A Mandate Becomes a 'Tax'
As to the newer ironies, the first can be found in the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts, expected to side with the court's four most predictably conservative members, wound up instead casting the deciding vote to give the law (or most of it) a 5-4 victory. Instead of Roberts, it was swing member Anthony Kennedy who sided with the anti's.
What might lie behind Roberts' surprise swerve? We prefer to think it was simply an attack of conscience - a decision to rise above politics and do something for the long-range benefit of his country. Even if this was mixed with less noble motives (like positioning himself to take some hard-right positions on other controversial matters next session), Roberts deserves a place in the history books.
To arrive at the result he had decided on, though, the chief justice did have to engage in a bit of manipulation, which brings us to Thursday's second irony. Since he didn't think the mandate could be justified under the Constitution's "interstate commerce" clause, he and the others in the majority seem to have agreed rather arbitrarily to think of it as a "tax" instead.
This came even though Obama, in earlier debate, had insisted that it wasn't a tax at all, since that's such a dirty word in the Republican vocabulary.
Opponents Redouble Their Effort
For some observers, all this tends to reinforce the truism that it's not always good to see how laws and sausages are made - and upheld.
However the ruling was arrived at, it was the correct one. Experts say the law, by drawing everyone into the pool and thus bringing premiums down, will ultimately provide affordable insurance to tens of millions more Americans. Among other benefits, it will end the atrocious practice of tossing people off their policies just because they fall ill or suffer from pre-existing conditions.
In any case, don't expect opponents to bow to the inevitable and turn their attention everywhere. For many, this only redoubles their determination to throw this solid and hard-won advance out and start again from square one.
That would be a grave disservice to America.
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