Did you hear that the Supreme Court found Obamacare unconstitutional this week? Well, it didn't. Not yet, at least. The truth is, nobody really knows how the court will rule. But that hasn't stopped plenty of people from declaring the law's individual mandate dead on arrival. We're going to try and cut through some of the bluster and wishful thinking to explain the facts of this very complex political issue.
What about the health care reform law could the court find unconstitutional?
Much of the right-wing celebration this week revolved around harsh questions the court's conservative justices aimed at the government over the law's individual mandate, which forces most people to buy insurance. These justices, who outnumber the more liberal judges 5 to 4 and therefore have the power to squash the law on their own, strongly questioned whether the government's ability to force compulsory coverage would have a "limiting principle."
Um, OK, but what's that mean?
Basically, the justices want to determine what sorts of limits the government has under the Obama administration's interpretation of the law. Specifically they wondered:?If the federal government can force everyone to buy insurance, what's to stop them from, say, making everyone buy broccoli.
But that's really stupid, right?
Depends on whether you ask liberals or conservatives. Some on the left point out that government already forces citizens to buy all sorts of things, like military weaponry, highways and programs like Medicare and Social Security. And that broccoli is completely different from health insurance, since Congress can, under the necessary and proper clause, force citizens to engage in commerce in order to fix a national hazard. The right sees any such mandate as an overreach of federal powers.
What are federal powers?
The Constitution sets out certain enumerated powers to the government -- things the feds can legally do. If it's not in there, they can't do it.
Are we just arguing semantics?
Sort of. One important question is whether the mandate's penalty can be considered a tax. If it is, the law could be constitutional, because Congress has the power to tax in order to promote the general welfare so long as it raises revenue. But some on the right say the law won't do that.
Can a court loss possibly be good for Democrats, liberals and/or President Obama?
Obama, maybe, but that's a hard sell: It's tough to argue that the president could benefit from the court declaring his signature legislative achievement a violation of the country's founding document. It would certainly be, as Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia has put it, "a tremendous validation." On the other hand, there may still be good news for liberals: If the nation loses Obama's health care solution, we'll just need to find a new one -- and single-payer, which the left has always preferred, is clearly constitutional.
Follow Brayden Simms on Twitter @metropolitik