A commenter observed that I didn’t really address the substance of a Jon Chait post about what would happen should the Supreme Court wreck most of the health care exchanges. Fair enough! So while I stand by everything I argued in my longerform about the question, a few additional points:
- To be clear, it’s entirely plausible that the Court going the full Moops it will be, on net, a political negative for the Republican Party. The fact that the Democratic message is clear, the fact that it will be a Republican Congress and Republican statehouses who refuse to do anything — these are real factors. There are also real countervailing factors: the president tends to get disproportionate credit/blame for any results of federal policy that happen under his watch, and blaming Obama for anything to do with “Obamacare” is also a simple and potentially effective message. Nonetheless, I’m willing to assume arguendo that the Court reversing in King will make the political situation worse for Republicans ceteris paribus. I also agree that congressional Republicans are enormously unlikely to pass a Potemkin, poison-pill laden “fix” even though it’s in their political interest to do so.
- But in terms of policy and electoral results, that’s not the end of the story. There are similarities with this argument and the argument that overruling Roe v. Wade would be excellent.news.for.the.Democratic.Party. Overruling Roe would indeed be unpopular, but elections are not referenda on individuals issues. Parties can do unpopular things and take unpopular positions and still win. The vast majority of Republican public officials and the federal and state level will not pay any price for the Supreme Court doing their dirty work, and votes to fix the hole the Supreme Court created will also potentially expose a Republican to a primary challenge. It would be almost impossible for any political blowback to cost Republicans the House or most of the state governments they control. Given this, it’s hard to see how such Republicans will be compelled to act. There may be some exceptions in Republican-controlled blue states with state exchanges. The biggest potential effect is on the Senate elections — not trivial, but only under some pretty precise circumstances would a backlash be the crucial variable handing the Senate to the Democrats.
- Chait draws a comparison with the government shutdown and the debt ceiling round 2, where the GOP was force to cave. But there’s a big difference. Those disputes, for Republicans, were about means, not ends. Republicans don’t favor defaulting on the debt or shutting down the government per se; they don’t do these things when Republicans control the White House, and the people who pay their bills really don’t like them either. They’re only useful if they provide leverage; if they’re not providing leverage and are doing political damage, they have no reason to continue to pursue them. This is different — taking away health care subsidies and damaging the ACA are, in themselves, victories for the GOP. There would have to be a lot of political damage for Republicans to back down soon. Federally, and in most affected states, I just don’t see it happening anytime soon.