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Can Republicans Win By Losing At The Supreme Court?

Headlines Health Politics Tribune News Service

Can Republicans Win By Losing At The Supreme Court?


By Greg Stohr, Bloomberg News (TNS)

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to issue blockbuster rulings on same-sex marriage and health care, Republicans have a blueprint for victory: They need to lose.

Republicans have played a leading role in asking the court to undercut Obamacare by barring tax subsidies for people who buy insurance in at least 34 states. GOP state officials are urging the court to uphold their gay-marriage bans.

Yet legal success on either front would throw the party — and its presidential candidates — into a political thicket. A victory on health care could strip insurance from more than 6 million people, including policyholders in the states set to cast the first votes for the Republican nomination: Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

And ruling against gay marriage would make the issue a focal point for the 2016 general election, leaving Republicans to argue against a right supported by six in 10 Americans.

Both rulings are due by the end of June as the court finishes its nine-month term with its traditional flurry of major opinions.

In both cases, Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts hold the votes that might save Republicans from what could be a political disaster. Kennedy’s track record suggests he will join the four Democratic appointees to back marriage rights, while Roberts cast the vote that saved Obamacare in a case three years ago.

A ruling against Obamacare would throw American health-care into a new period of turmoil. Unless the justices delayed the effective date of the decision — something the court hasn’t done since 1982 — it would almost quadruple the average premium for affected policyholders in a matter of months.

What’s more, the ruling might send the individual insurance markets in the affected states into what economists call a “death spiral”: The higher premiums would mean that only the sickest and most desperate buy insurance. That would cause premiums to rise even more.

That scenario would pressure Republicans on multiple levels. In the states, officials who until now have resisted Obamacare would face calls to set up exchanges so that residents could continue to collect the tax credits. In Washington, Republican lawmakers would suddenly have to shift from trying to dismantle Obamacare to managing the fallout.

“If the Supreme Court rules against it, they’re going to have to have an answer for the millions that now are relying on this insurance,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and ex-aide to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. “They’ll have to provide a credible alternative.”

Senate Republicans led by Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (who is up for re-election next year) are already proposing a bill that would extend the tax credits through the 2016 election. The measure, however, would also repeal the law’s individual and employer mandates, which require people to acquire insurance and businesses to offer it. Those provisions would almost certainly mean White House opposition, making the bill as it stands more a political statement than an avenue to fill the hole the high court ruling might open.

“I’m not sure it will be enough to say, ‘We’ve got an approach but the president will veto it,'” said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion specialist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “Something will have to happen pretty quickly so those people are not without coverage.”

On gay marriage, the party’s longstanding opposition has left it at odds with public opinion. The latest Gallup poll shows record support for legalized same-sex marriage, with 60 percent favoring and 37 percent opposed. Same-sex couples can now wed in 36 states.
A Supreme Court ruling against gay marriage would set up a new round of state-by-state fights. Some of those battles would occur in court, as judges sort out the effects of earlier rulings legalizing marriage.

Other fights would take place at the ballot box. Marriage advocates could try to put the issue before voters in Ohio and Michigan, two presidential swing states where gay marriage is currently illegal.

Supporters might also look to Arizona and Colorado, states that now have gay marriage because of court rulings. A Supreme Court decision potentially would nullify those rulings, forcing supporters to turn to ballot initiatives.

The fracas would leave Republican candidates in a bind, forcing them to try to placate the social conservatives who are key to winning the party’s presidential nomination without alienating middle-of-the-road voters who support gay marriage and who are key to winning the general election.

“Having it continue to go through a domino effect isn’t necessarily helpful for Republican candidates who are trying to appeal a wider section of voters than just social conservatives,” Bonjean said.

A ruling legalizing gay marriage wouldn’t entirely take the issue off the political table. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is calling for a constitutional amendment to allow states to ban the practice. And many opponents would view the Supreme Court decision as an overreach and an infringement of religious rights, says Saul Anuzis, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.

“I don’t think this is the final chapter at all,” Anuzis said. “I think it will focus the fight and again probably re-energize people because now they will have a very specific target.”

Even so, people on both sides of the issue say many Republicans would prefer seeing gay marriage fade as a political issue.

“They’d probably be better off losing the gay marriage issue, politically that is,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. “It would remove the issue from the debate, and the GOP is now on the wrong side, politically, of the debate.”

(c)2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: GOP against Obamacare via Flickr



  1. Lynda Groom June 8, 2015

    Amend the ‘four’ words to include those state exchanges with Federal Government involvement. There you go fixed with no muss or fuss. If we had a functional Congress it would be just than simple. We don’t, so we are faced with more potential harm to millions of Americans because their elected leadership wlll not, or can not, work for the people instead of agenda driven special interest.

    1. FT66 June 9, 2015

      I think Lynda “MAKING AMENDMENT”, is what the Supreme Court is going to give as their advice. They are not going to kill, dismantle ACA.

      1. Justin Napolitano June 9, 2015

        It is the intent of the law that the court will address. It never was intended to deny subsidies for those using Federal exchanges.

  2. Insinnergy June 8, 2015

    I think the most accurate line in this article is that Republicans are on the wrong side of the American people by around a six out of ten margin. I would argue that that’s pretty much across the board.

  3. Dominick Vila June 9, 2015

    The Republican party has nobody to blame for the after shocks of an adverse decision by the Supreme Court on issues such as same-sex marriage and Obamacare, but themselves.
    They could have ripped the benefits of supporting the ACA, from the outset, by highlighting the fact that the ACA is designed based on a concept developed by The Heritage Foundation, one of the most conservative organizations in the USA. Instead, they chose to demonize it, attack it, and take the case to the Supreme Court. They are likely to get hurt, politically, regardless of which way the SC decision goes.
    As for same-sex marriage, insisting on medieval religious prejudice at a time when the rest of the world, and the majority of Americans, are moving forward is nothing short of political suicide.
    No wonder some of them are back pedaling…

    1. CrankyToo June 10, 2015

      Backpedaling is the GOP’s preferred mode of travel these days. And backbiting is their preferred approach to legislation and governance. The Republican party’s a frickin’ mess – and getting worse by the day.

  4. johninPCFL June 9, 2015

    What the reports on the polls don’t mention is that nine-out-of-ten of the four-out-of-ten opposers of same-sex marriage live in the sun-belt states that currently form the GOP backbone. For any of the GOP candidates to soften their stance is primary suicide since they’ll lose North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi for sure. Texas and Florida are Bush’s to lose in any case.

    As to Obamacare, I don’t know that the oligarchs and plutocrats have weighed in yet as to how their SCOTUS will vote.

  5. Eleanore Whitaker June 9, 2015

    As always, the male dominated GOP shows their utter ignorance and how out of touch with the rest of the country they are. They think if it exists as “culture” in the south and midwest, well then…that MUST be how it exists everywhere else.

    This isn’t about who will be president. It’s about which of the billionaires will be Numero Uno. Who does the GOp think they are fooling? Adelson is hot to get ahead of the Koch thugs and the Koch Thugs are neck in neck with Rove.

  6. AlfredSonny June 9, 2015

    Will the four Republican-biased so-called Justices – especially the white one with black skin – be neutral enough to make Constitutional decisions?


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