There’s been an extraordinary amount of speculation about who might be exposed to blame if the U.S. Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell. Since it’s Republicans that brought the suit, and Republicans have been fighting Obamacare tooth and nail, and Republicans who prevented a lot of states from setting up their own exchanges, and Republican voters who may be significantly effected if the subsidies go and insurance markets get crazy–there’s been a pretty strong sense that Republicans could be caught between their conservative activists who want to go back to the pre-reform status quo ante no matter how big a mess it creates and the more “responsible” folk who want some sort of fix.
But today at the New Yorker Jeffrey Toobin comes along with a great big pitcher of cold water to pour on the idea of Republicans getting blamed:
If the Obama Administration loses in the Supreme Court, the political pain will fall almost exclusively on the President and his Party. To paraphrase Colin Powell and the Pottery Barn rule, President Obama will have broken health care, so he owns it. To the vast mass of Americans who follow politics casually or not at all, Obamacare and the American system of health care have become virtually synonymous. This may not be exactly right or fair, but it’s a reasonable perception on the part of most people. The scope of the Affordable Care Act is so vast, and its effects so pervasive, that there is scarcely a corner of health care, especially with regard to insurance, that is unaffected by it. So if millions lose insurance, they will hold it against Obamacare, and against Obama. Blaming the President in these circumstances may be unfair, but it’s the way American politics works.
And it’s not just American politics, either. The tendency to credit whoever’s in office for economic improvements is to a large extent why David Cameron’s still in office in the UK, and why Democrats may have a better than average shot of hanging onto the White House next year.
For many people, the President of the United States is the government of the United States. It’s why he gets the credit and blame for so many things, like the economy, where his influence can be hard to discern. This is particularly true for a subject in which the President has invested so much of his personal and political capital. If the Supreme Court rules against him, the President can blame the Justices or the Republicans or anyone he likes, and he may even be correct. But the buck will stop with him.
Let’s really, really hope SCOTUS comes to its senses.