Politics & Policy

A Pyrrhic Victory for Obama

This health-care victory will give Obama headaches.

To paraphrase former House speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Supreme Court had to rule on Obamacare so we could find out what’s in it.

In an opinion that defied all predictions, the nation’s highest court judged Obamacare constitutional. Swing vote Anthony Kennedy did not join his liberal colleagues. Instead, conservative pin-up John Roberts flew with the Court’s left wing. Among the pundits who paraded through TV studios before yesterday’s decision, none saw this coming.

Writing for the 5–4 majority, Roberts agreed with Obamacare’s free-market critics that Congress cannot compel people (via the individual mandate) to purchase a product (health insurance), as opposed to what they already buy. Insofar as the Court restrained Congress’s ability to deploy the Interstate Commerce Clause to such ends, it probably limited future mischief by professional troublemakers on Capitol Hill.

However, Roberts and Democratic-appointed associate justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor decided to justify Obamacare’s individual mandate as a tax. This truly is a head scratcher, as the moneys to be assessed from those who defied the mandate were marketed as a penalty, not as the new Individual Mandate Tax.

By letting the Obama administration proceed stealthily along a route it had avoided publicly, Roberts and his four new buddies resemble cops who have stopped a motorist for speeding. When the driver explains that he was going 85 mph to enjoy his car’s 450-horsepower engine, one of the police officers replies: “Well, that would be illegal. But you could have said you are late for work and want to keep your job, please floor it and get out of here.”

By allowing the mandate to survive as a tax, Roberts and the Court majority have handed President Obama a major victory.

The ruling is clearly a massive relief for Obama. Had Obamacare been rejected outright, he would have had to face voters with virtually zilch to show for his tenure. His $828 billion stimulus has stimulated nothing. One of its aims was to drive unemployment below 8 percent. Instead, we have seen 41 consecutive months (and counting) of joblessness at or above that level — the worst such performance since at least 1948, when the government began tracking this statistic. The stimulus overpromised and underdelivered because, as Obama admitted, “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.”

Cash for Clunkers merely shifted demand for automobiles earlier on the calendar, yielding no long-term benefit. Some $5.1 trillion in fresh national debt (up 48 percent since Obama took office) has delivered feeble GDP growth of 1.9 percent.

Obama’s sole triumph — the much-appreciated and highly worthy Navy SEAL shooting of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden — now drowns beneath a Niagara Falls of national-security leaks. One blabbed detail, among many, outed a doctor who helped locate bin Laden. His thanks for helping American intelligence: a 33-year sojourn in a Pakistani prison.

Rather than run for reelection beneath a banner stating, “I got nothin’,” Obama will brag endlessly about his signature accomplishment.

Still, the victory also gives him two major headaches.

First, the Supreme Court unwittingly has placed Obama’s greatest hit on a collision course with one of his biggest promises. “If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime,” Obama told a joint session of Congress on February 24, 2009. “I repeat: not one single dime.”

By sticking with Obamacare, Obama must admit that he has imposed a new tax on nearly everyone, not just the “millionaires and billionaires” whom he decries by day and with whom he dines by night at $40,000 per plate. America’s Spender-in-Chief now seeks another term as America’s Taxer-in-Chief.

Second, according to pollster Scott Rasmussen, 54 percent of Americans want Obamacare repealed. Those numbers will go up, not down, as citizens realize that this 2,801-page monstrosity is an unworkable, bloated Washington power grab turbocharged by a near-universal tax hike.

None of that rhymes with “Four more years!”

To paraphrase Forrest Gump: The Supreme Court is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.

New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a Fox News contributor, a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


The Latest