SCOTUS Saves ObamaCare — and the GOP’s 2016 Prospects

English: Depiction of the Senate vote on H.R. ...
Depiction of the Senate vote on H.R. 3590 (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) on December 24, 2009, by state. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The US Supreme Court handed down its ruling in King v. Burwell on Thursday (June 25), putting to rest the question of whether or not certain subsidies created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”) would remain available.

The Court ruled against the clear language and intent of the law. In so doing, it greatly improved the Republican Party’s slim chances of maintaining its Senate majority, and possibly even winning the White House, in 2016.

Yes, really. Here’s why:

The first thing to understand is that the subsidies language in the ACA was a standard “spoils” move, made with an eye toward helping Democrats win elections.

In states which established insurance exchanges under the law (in other words, states run by Democrats), low-income voters would receive federal subsidies to purchase health coverage. In states which didn’t do so (in other words, states run by Republicans), they wouldn’t. This would shore up support for the Democrats in their own states. If it hurt them at all, it would only hurt them in states that were already Republican anyway. And maybe not even there (Republicans would get some blame for denying the subsidies to their constituents).

Crass vote-buying? Yes. The executive branch took the edge off any potential red-state damage to Democrats by going ahead and delivering the subsidies even though the law didn’t allow them, knowing that Republicans would complain and make themselves the bad guys in the eyes of low-income voters in their own states. Which they promptly proceeded to do.

At the Supreme Court level, the Democrats won coming and going. A ruling against the subsidies would be blamed on the Republicans; a ruling for the subsidies was an affirmation for a Democratic president.

The second thing to understand is that the Republicans don’t make political hay on ObamaCare by actually repealing it or even significantly damaging it, but by COMPLAINING about it. They dodged a bullet with King v. Burwell. The court’s ruling allows them to keep complaining about it for political benefit in 2016, instead of facing down mobs of pitchfork-carrying, formerly Republican low-income voters in their own states who lost subsidies.

The third and final thing to understand is that the Republicans will never repeal the ACA. Heck, it was their idea in the first place! Republican president Richard Nixon suggested its core principal, the “individual mandate,” in 1973. A Republican congressman (Newt Gingrich) and a Republican think tank (the Heritage Foundation) suggested it again in 1993. Republican governor Mitt Romney implemented it in Massachusetts in 2007.

The only thing Republican politicians don’t like about ObamaCare is that it has a Democrat’s name on it. Which makes sense, since it’s a giant corporate welfare program of the kind politicians of both major parties love, thinly and unconvincingly disguised as “health care reform.”

It is, in other words, the practical application of HL Mencken’s dictum: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.