The Supreme Courts decision upholding the main provisions of Obamacare raises the stakes in the coming election.
By E. THOMAS McCLANAHAN
The Kansas City Star
The campaign is no longer mainly about the economy. Its about whether this country will follow the path trod by the Europeans, who traded economic dynamism for what they thought was security and ended up buried in debt and entitled to benefits that cannot be paid.
The one upside, were told, is that the court curbed Congress future use of the Commerce Clause the constitutional provision that allows lawmakers to regulate trade among the several states.
While the justices said the mandate to buy insurance wasnt valid under the Commerce Clause, they decided it was OK under the taxing power, a result that hardly qualifies as the dawn of a new era of limited government. Apparently, Congress can still order us to do anything as long as it adds a tax to the legislative language.
The ruling will sharpen disagreement in an already polarized nation. It will inflame the tea party and everyone concerned about the threat posed by Obamacare not only to the nations fiscal health but to our personal freedom.
Whether under the Commerce Clause or the taxing power, the notion that Washington can order everyone to purchase a particular product is a quantum leap in terms of the federal governments reach, a result that makes a mockery of the idea of limited government.
The ruling is a big victory for Obama, and it highlights one of Republican Mitt Romneys most glaring vulnerabilities as the GOP nominee. It is a reminder that as governor of Massachusetts, he pushed through a precursor of Obamacare that included a personal mandate.
Because he is in a poor position to criticize the law, he has simply pledged to repeal it while avoiding specifics. After last Thursdays ruling, thats no longer good enough.
The decision increases the risk that the laws main features will go fully into effect, a realization that will spur its opponents. Republicans know that if Romney fails to unseat Obama and the GOP fails to gain control of the Senate, the hope of creating a true competitive market for health care the only effective way of curbing health care costs without government rationing will dim.
Once millions of recipients become entitled to the subsidies authorized by the law, the door will close to substantial reform and the fuse of a fiscal time bomb will tick faster.
The risk with Obamacare is that that many more companies will dump workers onto the subsidized exchanges than official estimates assume.
If that happens, costs will skyrocket.
Former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin has said the 10-year cost could be double the early estimates about par for the course for entitlement programs, which almost always cost far more than expected.
With the nations fiscal condition already dire, the increased taxes required to pay for all this would profoundly change the character of our country.
Up to now, Romneys approach has been to hammer Obama on the anemic economy and say that if elected he would repeal Obamacare. With close to two-thirds of the voters saying the country is on the wrong track, this may have been the safest strategy. But on health care its no longer adequate.
The court ruling puts pressure on Romney to offer a credible, specific plan for what he would do.
As health care expert James Capretta wrote, Romney must become credible quickly, lest the sense emerges that the choice is between the Obamacare status quo and nothing.
In the next few weeks, well learn whether Romney can rise to the occasion.
To reach E. Thomas McClanahan, call 816-234-4480 or send email to email@example.com.