In a truly unexpected 5-4 decision with Chief Justice Roberts leading the way the Supreme Court ruled President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and its hotly contested individual mandate, was indeed constitutional. While the last 2 years were filled with court challenges and rampant questionable claims over the bill’s intent, the administration and the Democrats need to decide what to do now. Mitt Romney and the Republican Party have already taken up a steadfast “repeal and replace” position. But what about the Democrats? Now that the constitutionality of the law is no longer in question, they have what amounts to a second chance to wrest control of the conversation from the GOP and tell the voting public what is actually in the bill.
After the ruling CNN and other media outlets began digging deeper into the Affordable Care Act’s text to explore what the law does. This was a focal shift from unending speculation over its legality to one that asked “what will the bill do for average Americans”. President Obama may have set the tone of the conversation from here on out, in the media at least, when he outlined the ACA’s benefits and who will actually be impacted by the mandate and why. Compared with the Republicans’ strategy of “Repeal” without any plan for replacement and their ardent, unsupported claims that the law is “making problems worse”, Democrats now have a broad, positive line of response. They have a full list of very popular provisions detailed in the bill along with many the public is less aware of like consumer rebates from insurers who don’t put enough of their premium dollars towards actual medical costs. From banning insurers from denying coverage for preexisting conditions to saving Seniors hundreds of dollars each through the prescription drug doughnut hole closure to eliminating co-pays for preventative care to improving access to care and increasing industry efficiency to the creation of competitive insurance marketplaces, Democrats have a repository of highly anticipated benefits to stand against the wall of criticism or attempts to repeal.
In addition they have the opportunity to correct the inaccuracies spread through an ambitious misinformation campaign. From death panels to government takeovers of health care, Democrats can put a halt to the claims, new and old alike. Within hours of the Courts ruling new rhetoric emerged claiming the mandate was a tax on all the middle class, concluding the Court “rewrote” the law. These claims are easily debunked. The mandate is not a tax, the penalty is. Only those who can purchase insurance but choose not to are subject to the penalty. This hardly amounts to a middle class tax increase especially when there are a multitude of subsidies and tax breaks for those who have problems paying for coverage. There was no rewriting on the law as there has been no alterations to the text of the bill. The penalty has always been in the form of a tax.
Throughout the controversy over the passage of the Affordable Care Act and its long battle through the courts, Democrats have simply hoped the law would become more popular with the public. This was a near impossibility given the ardent, bludgeoning attacks against it since its inception. Without a counter, the opposing message always wins. This was evident in the 2010 midterm elections. The Democrats lost the message battle. They lost it on health care, it was lost on financial reform, it was lost on the economy. Each of these fronts were defensible had Democrats simply taken one lesson from the GOP playbook to heart. Repetition. Find that concise, easily repeatable talking point and stick to it. There’s a wealth of benefits the Democrats have within the repository of the health care law to draw upon. All that is required is a united stance and a simple message to run with. Second chances don’t come along often. The question is, “Do Democrats have the wherewithal to take advantage of it?”