The Affordable Care Act: Decision Effects

By Alexander Cockburn

June 29, 2012 5 min read

It's tempting to say the Affordable Care Act decision spells the end of the Romney candidacy. The Mormon millionaire was entirely blindsided by yesterday's long-awaited verdict from the U.S. Supreme Court, as were almost all Republicans who had spent months complacently totting up a conservative majority, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, and then Lo! here's Roberts saying the famous unfunded mandate is constitutional. People can be compelled to pay taxes for their health insurance.

Romney said rather limply, "What the Court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law or that it's good policy." He said the ruling had made it clear: "If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we're going to have replace President Obama." Then he flourished the slogan: "Repeal or replace." President Obama drove his point home with a politician's usual piety. "I didn't do this because I thought it was good politics," he said, touting the Act's provisions to protect patients with pre-existing conditions, to allow children up to age 26 to remain on their parents' plans and to require insurers to provide free preventive screenings. "I did it because I believed it was good for this country."

Obama said that even as implementation of the Act continues, it could be improved upon. But the court ruling allows the country to avoid, as Obama put it, going back to "fight the political battles of two years ago" when the law was passed.

Opinion is steadily growing that Romney is not that smart in the upper floors.

There was the disaster when Obama said most young illegal immigrants brought to the United States as kids will not be deported. They do have to fit certain criteria. They must be under the age of 30, have been in the U.S. for at least five years, and they must also be in school, the military or have earned a high school diploma. They also cannot have a criminal record. That means this applies to nearly 800,000 people across the country. The best Romney could manage in response to this wildly popular proposal from Obama was a speech that appears to have been a real doozy. The local Florida paper reported that after Mitt Romney's 20-minute address to the nation's largest gathering of Latino lawmakers, supporters of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee held a cafe-con-leche reception down the hall at the Disney hotel. But less than an hour after Romney's speech, there were only five people left in the room — three of whom were there to work the espresso machine.

The downside of the Affordable Care Act is, as Dave Lindorff writes today, 18 months from now, when the health insurance mandate part of the new Act takes effect and people who have no employer-provided health plan and no other kind of coverage fail to buy a policy for themselves and their families, they will be socked with a penalty from the IRS — $95 for 2014, $325 for 2015, $695 in 2016 and that $695 indexed to the consumer price index in the years after 2016.

Some are saying that because the refusal to pay the penalty does not carry a prison sentence Chief Justice Roberts was persuaded that there was "no real compulsion here."

Others claim that Roberts buckled under pressure at the very last minute, mindful of the Supreme Court's authority and legitimacy and unwilling to bear the burden of destroying a hugely important bill, with vast political implication.

If that's the case, there are some ironies here. When Obama served in the Senate in 2005, he voted against confirming Roberts as chief justice, arguing that he lacked empathy for underdogs and that "he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak."

Twenty-one other Democratic senators, including Joe Biden, also voted against confirming Roberts. Twenty-two Democratic senators voted to confirm him.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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