This morning’s decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the individual mandate
—and the majority of the Affordable Care Act—is a huge victory for the Obama administration, but it gives Republicans and Mitt Romney a rallying cry for the November election.
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court decided that the president’s signature health care legislation, commonly known as “Obamacare,” will stand. The Supreme Court appears only to have thrown out a provision that would penalize states for not expanding their Medicaid rolls.
It’s impossible to analyze the high court’s decision without considering what it means for November’s presidential election.
Most important, by winning today, President Obama avoids the taint of being framed as a political “loser” who wasted a massive amount of political capital on an unconstitutional bill. His victory will allow him to campaign on the bill’s key provisions: providing health care to 30 million
Americans by 2022 who otherwise wouldn’t have it, doing away with pre-existing conditions and lifetime insurance caps, and adding children up to age 26 to their parents’ insurance policies.
“Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it,” Obama said hours after the ruling.
The GOP’s take
Republicans have a bigger messaging challenge. Mitt Romney is a flawed spokesperson for the anti-mandate message, given that he supported an individual mandate while governor of Massachusetts. Plus, other prominent conservatives—Newt Gingrich comes to mind—had until recently supported
the individual mandate.
The breakdown of the court’s decision also complicates the GOP’s messaging strategy. The swing vote upholding Obamacare belonged to conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee. That prevents conservatives from running against a “liberal” court.
However, Republicans have a couple of potentially potent salvos to fire. First, the court decided that the individual mandate would survive as a “tax,” despite the Obama administration’s earlier insistence that it wasn’t one. That allows Republicans to accuse Obama of raising taxes on the middle class. Sarah Palin, for example, was quick to tweet this morning that: “Obama lied to the American people. Again. He said it wasn't a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.”
[READ: 10 bombastic, hilarious, and informative tweets about the healthcare ruling]
Romney didn’t mince words in his statements following the ruling.
“As you might imagine I disagree with the Supreme Court decision and I agree with the dissent,” he said. "Obamacare was bad policy yesterday; it's bad policy today."
He added: “If we want to replace Obamacare, we have to replace Obama,”
Second, Obamacare remains deeply unpopular with many voters. If, as promised in his remarks today, Romney runs on repealing it, he may help energize portions of the GOP base and boost fundraising.
Getting it wrong
Two other big losers today are CNN and Fox News, both of which initially reported
that the Supreme Court had killed the individual mandate. CNN issued a statement on the blunder, saying:
“In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts initially said that the individual mandate was not a valid exercise of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause. CNN reported that fact, but then wrongly reported that therefore the court struck down the mandate as unconstitutional. However, that was not the whole of the Court’s ruling. CNN regrets that it didn't wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate. We made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error.”
Meanwhile, Fox News explained its erroneous report ("we gave our viewers the news as it happened") while taking a swipe at other networks.
"By contrast, one other cable network was unable to get their Supreme Court reporter to the camera, and said as much," the statement from Michael Clemente, executive vice president of news at Fox News (posted on Mediate)
said. "Another said it was a big setback for the President. Fox reported the facts, as they came in."
Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog. His firm, Phillips Media Relations, specializes in media and presentation training. He tweets at @MrMediaTraining.