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On health care, Supreme Court loss could be electoral win

at 06:30 AM ET, 03/23/2012

President Obama’s biggest legislative victory in 2010 was his health care bill, which in turn wound up being his party’s biggest electoral liability.

History could repeat itself in 2012, except in reverse.
The Supreme Court (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

As Republicans and Democrats alike commemorate the two-year anniversary of the signing of the health care bill today, a more significant battle awaits in the U.S. Supreme Court next week.

And some Republicans are worried that their big challenge to Obama’s health care law could backfire come election time.

Obama, of course, does not want to see his signature initiative overturned by the Supreme Court, which holds oral arguments on the bill next week and should render a decision by late June. And Republicans who have long railed against the bill would certainly be overjoyed to see the bill struck down.

(More on the specifics of what could happen at the Supreme Court in N.C. Aizenman’s great story in today’s paper.)

But in an electoral milieu (yes, we just used that word) in which winning is often based more on voting against something rather than voting for it, losing at the Supreme Court may be the best thing that could happen to either side — and particularly Democrats.

“In a perverse way, Obama is helped if it is overturned, because then he can use it to rally his base,” said GOP pollster Glen Bolger. “If it is not overturned, then Republicans have a frying pan to bash over the Democrats’ head...”

Here’s what it boils down to:

Republicans already hate the law, and if it gets struck down, there’s nothing to unite against. Obama may pay a price from his political capital for enacting a law that is eventually declared unconstitutional, but all of a sudden, the bogeyman disappears, and the GOP loses one of its top rallying cries.

The Democratic base, meanwhile, would be incensed at the Supreme Court, which has generally tilted 5-to-4 in favor of conservatives on contentious issues, and could redouble its efforts to reelect Obama so that he could fill whatever Supreme Court vacancies may arise.

On the flip side, if the law is upheld, Republicans’ No. 1 priority — repealing the health care law — is still on the table, and Obama, while his law remains intact, still has to try and explain to a skeptical public why the law isn’t so bad. In other words, pretty much the status quo.

Which means this isn’t exactly a win-win for Republicans.

“Repealing Obamacare is the biggest single thing a GOP president/Senate can or will do in 2013, and if it’s off the table because the court strikes it down, the election is honestly far less important from a historical standpoint – which likely means marginally depressed GOP turnout,” said a GOP operative granted anonymity to discuss strategy candidly.

Added GOP consultant Steve Gordon: “If the court accepts the bill in full or mostly in full, the right will think it’s all wrong and could pull out all the stops to defeat the president in November — the last chance to modify the law prior to enactment.”

Maybe this is the reason we saw the Obama Administration ask the court to take up the issue this year. While they would rather not have to defend their law in front of the Supreme Court, it’s better to do it in an election year in which Democrats could potentially reap some gains from an adverse ruling.

And it’s quite possible that they have more to gain than Republicans do.

Republicans launch ad, robocalls on health care: The National Republican Congressional Committee is going up with a new ad against Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) and a series of robocalls against 13 House Democrats and Democratic candidates targeting them on health care and Medicare.

The Sutton ad accuses her of supporting a Democratic Medicare plan that would “decimate Medicare” and lead to “political rationing.” The ad buy is $16,000.

The calls target 13 incumbents and candidates in Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Utah and Wisconsin, saying the Democratic health care bill “cuts $500 billion from Medicare and is going to cost taxpayers nearly double what Washington politicians claimed.”

The calls are going out to the districts of Reps. John Barrow (GA-12), Tim Walz (MN-01), Collin Peterson (MN-07), Tim Bishop (NY-01), Steve Israel (NY-03), Bill Owens (NY-21), Louise Slaughter (NY-25), Brian Higgins (NY-26), Kathy Hochul (NY-27), and Jim Matheson (UT-04). Other calls target Democratic challengers Gary McDowell in Michigan, and Pat Kreitlow and Jamie Wall in Wisconsin.

Note the inclusion of Israel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose district just got more swingy under a court-drawn redistricting plan.

Fixbits:

Former Maine governor and newly minted Senate candidate Angus King (I) gets some scrutiny in a congressional inquiry over a loan guarantee for a wind power project in which King had a stake.

Tea party favorite Ted Cruz goes on the air in the Texas GOP Senate primary.

Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.) goes up with a $600,000 ad buy in his primary campaign against Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.).

Must-reads:

Democrats’ battle to win back House ramps up in Illinois” — Paul Kane, Washington Post

Redistricting’s Dark Matter” — Reid Wilson, National Journal

Health-care changes may not all disappear even if justices overturn the law” — N.C. Aizenman, Washington Post

Eric Fehrnstrom, source of Etch A Sketch gaffe, is a trusted and loyal Romney adviser” — Philip Rucker, Washington Post

 
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