The Wall Street Journal editorial page just figured out that King v Burwell might be bad for Republicans, A Post Obamacare Strategy. As you may recall, King is the latest in a torrent of lawsuits against Obamacare designed to kill the law by any means possible. In this case, it takes a single phrase from the bill — one that conflicts with many other phrases in the bill and the bill itself — and uses it to claim that the government cannot provide subsidies on federally run healthcare exchanges. It is the kind of lawsuit that would have been laughed out of court forty years ago. But now with people like Scalia, who spout right-wing talking points from the bench, anything is possible. I often wonder if a lawsuit mightn’t get traction if its legal reasoning was simply, “We don’t like it!”
What The Wall Street Journal is concerned about is that suddenly throwing over five million people (it might be as high as 13 million) off their health insurance might be bad politics. They noted that even though it is all the fault of Obama and the Democrats “the public may not notice the difference once the press corps discovers a cancer patient or two who can’t afford her Obamacare plan without taxpayer support.” Meagan Hatcher-Mays at Media Matters is a little optimistic, however, when she wrote, WSJ Just Realized the Anti-ACA Lawsuit It’s Pushing Could Be Ruinous for Americans — Including Republican Voters. The conservative paper only thinks that it will be a temporary problem and soon people will see how much benefit they get from not having insurance. (The people at The Wall Street Journal are amazing: they are so insulated from most of America that they actually believe this dreck.)
There is really only one way that King would hurt the Republicans: the presidential election of 2016. It is likely that if the court decides to strike down the subsidies to those who get their healthcare on federal subsidies, the Republicans will be blamed. People will wonder why Republican controlled legislatures across the nation don’t do something to help the millions of people they are harming. This will be far worse than these same legislatures rejecting the free money of the Medicaid expansion just to thumb their noses at the president. Taking something away seems far worse than never giving something in the first place. The nation as a whole will look on this and be reminded just how awful the Republican Party is.
But other than the election of the president, I don’t see any problems for the Republicans at all. Let’s start with the fact that most governors are elected on off-years. So they can already depend upon a conservative electorate — older and richer and unlikely to have been negatively affected by this. But most of these states have Republican legislatures because the people (stupidly) support them. Just look back at Kansas this year. Sam Brownback has pretty much destroyed the state and yet he still won re-election by over 3.5 percentage points. So where the Republicans are strong now, they will continue to be strong. Harming millions of middle class Americans is the sort of thing that has gotten them elected in the past and it will continue into the future.
So sure, King might give the Republicans a little bit of bad press. Of course, even it won’t be the bad; just look at how the country has moved on from the torture report. It might hurt them a little bit in Congress and will reduce how well they do in the run for the White House. But it’s not even significant, much less catastrophic. And let’s not forget: if the economy tanks in the first half of 2016, our next president will be a Republican. It doesn’t matter how much the party actively harms the nation.