"Legislatively we can't do a thing, and we are going to move full speed ahead (with implementation).”
-- A Democratic “congressional official” talking to the Associated Press about plans in the Obama administration to proceed with the president’s 2010 health law even if the Supreme Court strikes down its central provision requiring all Americans to either purchase insurance or be enrolled in a government program.
The looming Supreme Court decision on President Obama’s 2010 health law has Washington in a state of high anxiety.
Like tourists who ordered dinner without being able to read the menu, most politicians, pundits and policy wonks are pretty sure they won’t like what’s about to be served up.
Today, the talk is about an Associated Press story which cites a whisper from a Democratic “congressional official” who has been working with the White House on the way forward if the high court guts the president’s law.
“Congressional official” sounds like a euphemism for “staff member,” and it’s not surprising that senior aides would be huddling with Team Obama about what to do if the court says the federal government does not have the power to force citizens to purchase health insurance.
Some in the press corps suggest the news value here is that it is evidence that the president, despite public bluster, is concerned that the decision could go against him. Well, of course he is. So what?
The real news here is that the plan would be to allow the law to roll forward without the mandatory insurance provision that provides the economic underpinnings for Obama’s the new health-insurance entitlement program.
With no mandate, the law would smash into the private insurance system like a cannonball.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that private insurance costs for consumers would increase by as much as 20 percent if the law were to be imposed without the mandatory insurance provision.
But that would be just the beginning. As costs rise, more companies would opt to accept fines rather than share insurance costs with employees, which would, in turn, dump more people into the government-subsidized end of the risk pool.
That market shrinkage for private insurance would mean an even faster contraction in the number of healthy customers on whom to spread risk, meaning premiums would climb again. And that is what a death spiral for private insurance would look like.
Remember, the mandate was included in the law because moderate Democrats were scared off by the cost of Obama’s plan for a government-run insurance program open to all. Not only was it considered too expensive, but moderate Dems warned that private insurance would crumble in the face of a subsidized competitor. If the mandate were to go away, that’s what we’d essentially have anyway.
Democrats talk about all the goodies in the law, especially the new coverage requirements for private insurance. But it is only by the government forcing healthy, mostly young, Americans to buy their products that private insurance can profit under the new rules.
If that profit cushion is ripped away just as the new law forces less profitable customers onto their rolls, that’s bad news for big insurance. Add in the pain as more and more employers ditch their benefits packages and it’s easy to see how lots of insurers would decide that the health care wasn’t such a good business anymore.
Now, if Mitt Romney wins the election, it doesn’t matter as much. Romney would, at the very least, use executive power to freeze the implementation of the law. Romney might not be able to rip out the rest, but could work with Republicans and moderate Democrats to do something to prevent blowing a hole in private insurance for everyone.
But if the court were to slice out the mandatory insurance and Obama were to win re-election, there is a path for liberal Democrats to get most of what they wanted anyway.
How Obama would respond to such a decision, though, might have a lot to say about who wins in November.
If the president really were to say “full speed ahead” there would be a huge outcry, especially from the bitter, clinging, Clinton wing of the Democratic Party. Republicans already hate all 2,000 pages of the law, but without the mandate, Obama would face an insurrection in his own party.
Obama could make a show of calling for a legislative fix, perhaps the “public option” plan he previously supported, but with Congress stymied even by the simplest questions, that would have to wait for January.
Would Obama really run for re-election on a call for a government-run insurance program more expensive than the already unpopular law passed two years ago? Because of the alarm bells from the influential insurance industry the Clintonian uprising, Obama would have to say something.
There are political plusses and minuses for Obama if the court upholds or strikes down his law in full, but there seems little doubt that the cruelest cut that justices could deliver would be to strike down the mandate and leave the rest standing.
The Day in Quotes
“As the department has not yet produced these documents — and unless it does so [this] morning — I will not be able to offer you the committee’s assessment of them at [today’s] meeting.”
-- Letter from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, to Attorney General Eric Holder forecasting an unproductive negotiating session this evening as the two men and other congressional leaders haggle over a looming contempt vote in the House against Holder for withholding documents.
"The governor feels that his time is best spent working in West Virginia to move our state forward instead of attending a four-day political rally in North Carolina.”
-- Chris Stadleman, campaign spokesman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, D-W.Va,, on the governor’s decision to skip the Democratic National Convention. Attending would have required Tomblin, caught in a difficult re-election contest with Republican Bill Maloney, to declare his support for President Obama today. Fellow West Virginia Democrats Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Joe Rahall are also boycotting the DNC.
“[Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.] has not been asked complete any questionnaires or been asked to turn over any financial documents typically required of potential vice presidential candidates."
-- Jonathan Karl, senior political correspondent for ABC News, writing that according to “knowledgeable Republican sources” Rubio is not being considered as a potential running mate for Mitt Romney.
“There is no one that has more experience or understanding of the presidential debate process than John Kerry. He’s an expert debater who has a fundamental mastery of a wide range of issues, including Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts. He’s the obvious choice.”
-- David Axelrod, senior political adviser to President Obama, to the Washington Post on the decision to have the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee be Obama’s sparring partner in advance of the president’s three debates with Romney.
“Maybe this was Mitt Romney’s supermarket scanner moment.”
-- Andrea Mitchell, an anchor for MSNBC, setting up a clip of Mitt Romney from a weekend campaign appearance in Cornwall, Pa. talking about touch-screen ordering at WaWa convenience stores. Mitchell explained that Romney was amazed by the now-common technology pioneered by the Sheetz chain, mocking him for being out-of-touch with the experiences of ordinary Americans. The network edited out the portion of the video in which Romney was contrasting the ease of ordering a sandwich with the difficulty of interacting with the federal government.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“This is all patchwork. I think everybody understands that the train is headed over a cliff. But they patch it up slightly so you get an extra couple of months. But I don't see any way that Europe is able to pay off the extravagant living it's been on, the social entitlement state it's been on for 65 years. It can't be done. It will stop. The only question is it going to be a crash or something more slow motion? I think it will be a crash.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.