Less than 24 hours after the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, the political battlegrounds are drawn. Yesterday, I called the decision a big win for President Obama, and, as it settles in, I reaffirm that. That belief is largely based on the consequences of the alternative: Had the court thrown out the ACA or neutered it, Obama would have suffered the same fate politically. But the president's victory isn’t just about the absence of a negative. Yesterday, former Obama chief of staff Bill Daley said something very smart: Now the president can once again talk about the benefits of the law, as he did so well in his statement yesterday. The paradox of the health-care law — from the beginning — has been that its individual pieces — insurance reforms, donut hole, etc. — are much more popular than the whole. The president can now — either affirmatively or in response to Republican efforts to repeal the law — tout those benefits.
In this effort, the president will be hampered by the timing of the law's benefits: Many of the most popular provisions — the prohibition against denying coverage on account of a preexisting medical condition — do not take effect until 2014 and will still be theoretical during this election season. A further complication will be the actual implementation of the law, which is beginning now and leaves a lot of discretion to governors, many of whom oppose the law and have no desire to make things easier for the Obama administration.
Against this rather complex message landscape background for the law's proponents come the Republicans with a very simple message, as articulated by Ed this morning: The law is a Trojan Horse for a massive tax increase. They will beat that drum loudly and consistently until November, and it will help them not only with their base but with some swing voters.
But I still call the decision a clear victory for Obama. Why? It's a little like a paraphrase of what W.C. Fields said — even Philadelphia is better than the alternative.