The Supreme Court’s narrow decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act means that the country’s partisan battle over health care essentially remains unchanged. Conservatives hoped that the Supreme Court would throw them a lifeline by invalidating the law, which would have allowed the right to celebrate the end of Obamacare without having to take control of the government. The court kicked the issue back to the political arena, though, and part of the 2012 election will involve the American people giving a referendum on the law, whether they realize it or not. President Obama and the Democrats will continue to defend the law, particularly its popular provisions, and Mitt Romney and the Republicans will continue to promise to throw it out if given control of the government. They will emphasize the individual mandate in their critiques, the least popular aspect of the law, just as they have been doing since the law’s passage in 2010.
With all that said, this decision likely will not have much effect on the presidential election, because by not overturning the law, the court — though narrowly — simply affirmed the country’s political reality. Barring some international crisis or other unexpected event, this election was — and is — going to be about the economy. If anything, this decision only further relegates health care to a secondary issue amongst the lion’s share of voters.
Ultimately, people who were already decided about the Affordable Care Act probably knew how they were going to vote anyway. Perhaps some Republicans will be more fired up about trying to retake the presidency after this decision, but, chances are, they were pretty fired up to begin with. Obama, meanwhile, avoids a big embarrassment, and the signature domestic policy of his presidency endures – at least for now.