On "Owning" Health Care

In the search for silver linings to a Supreme Court decision striking down part or all of the Affordable Care Act, many people have suggested that should it happen, Americans will turn all their displeasure about the health care system on conservatives. Specifically, it is that that they will "own" the health care system. James Carville says that if the ACA is overturned on a 5-4 vote, "The Republican party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future." Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger says, "If the court were to strike down this major reform effort, 40 years in the making, the court would own the resulting health care system for the next decade and beyond. It’s a slightly highbrow version of the universal rule: 'You broke it, you bought it.'" The Republican party is one thing, but the Supreme Court "owing" health care? What does that mean? That people will be protesting outside the Court when their premiums go up? First of all, they won't, and second of all, I don't think the Court's conservative justices could care less if they did.

But what about the GOP? Will they really "own" health care? I suppose that would mean that whatever displeasure Americans have about the system will be laid directly at their doorstep, leading to future electoral defeats. And whenever the subject comes up, Democrats would say, "Don't talk to us—we tried to fix it, but the Republicans undid it. It's their problem now." Color me skeptical.

What's more likely to happen is that Democrats will continue to talk a lot about health care, coming up with new proposals and trying to make the intricate case for why their latest complex policy fix really will make people's lives better. Republicans will then say, "This is just more big government of the kind the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional. We need to unleash the power of the free market." Then they'll filibuster whatever it is Democrats want to do, the proposals will die, and Republicans will pay no particular price at the polls.

Maybe I'm just being cynical. But it seems awfully optimistic to assume that Americans will suddenly come to a real understanding of everything that happened over the last few years on the issue of health care and put blame where it belongs. And don't get me wrong, I think Democrats should certainly try to make Republicans own the health care system if the entire ACA is overturned, because they'll be right to do so. Most of what's bad about the system will indeed be Republicans' fault. I'm just not sure it'll work.

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