What happens at the Supreme Court tomorrow is not being overhyped: it really is that important. But a lot of what you may hear tomorrow will be spin from both sides about the political meaning of the outcome — and even worse, reporting and commentary on that spin.
Ignore it. Dig deep here for the substance, because it really is more consequential than the shouting matches would lead you to believe.
The Court’s decision will matter, substantively, in two ways. First, depending on what the Court says, either millions of people will soon be able to get health insurance, or they won’t. Either insurance companies will essentially be transformed into regulated utilities — no lifetime limits, no recissions, a tough standard for the percentage of premiums that go to benefits — or they won’t. Either the new efforts to limit the costs of Medicare will continue to be implemented, or they won’t.
And on and on: the Affordable Care Act is a huge, far-reaching law, and even the basics aren’t all that easy to describe. Whether you want those things to happen or not (or even if you live in terror at the thought of Broccoli Tyranny), the Court’s decision will have repercussions for decades.
The second way this will matter substantively is about the Constitution. The Court may take a major step towards implementing an agenda of returning the Constitution — and the government in general — to how it was before the New Deal. Or it may re-affirm current Constitutional precedents. The results have incredibly far-reaching, and not fully predictable, consequences for everything that government currently does or that future Congresses and presidents might want to do.
That’s what’s at stake, and none of it will change based on who wins a short-term advantage in the spin wars. It just won’t.
Sometimes, spin matters a lot. But not this time. What the Court decides will be carried out regardless of what anyone thinks or says about it — and regardless of who is declared the “winner” or “loser.” And the direct electoral consequences of this decision will be limited. Should the law be at least partially upheld, Democratic Senators are not going to suddenly abandon it and allow Republicans to repeal whatever remains. Nor are Republicans going to drop their objections to Obamacare if it survives in part or completely. As far as voters…most of them aren’t paying much attention, and they’re not going to vote based on this decision or their media-derived impression of it either way.
Hey, reporters! This is one where substance really, really matters. Figure out what the Court is saying, and how it will affect real people and future cases. That’s the story here, and it’s a good one.