It’s the Economy, not the Mandate
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a number of articles explaining the surprising effectiveness of the constitutional argument against the individual mandate to purchase health care. An argument that many observers gave little chance of success now is seen as a 50-50 proposition. Blame has been assigned to our highly polarized politics, in which each party rejects whatever the other party supports, the spending of conservative interest groups on attack ads, and the media’s greater attention to lower court decisions that found the mandate unconstitutional than to decisions that upheld it.
No doubt all of these factors have played a role, but they are not a complete explanation. After all, well-funded, partisan attacks on presidential policies are not always successful. We need to know why critiques of the mandate have resonated with the public as much as they have.
As I have suggested elsewhere, I think public disapproval of the mandate reflects a deeper concern than concern with the mandate itself. Voters are unhappy with the Affordable Care Act in large part because they saw it divert President Obama’s attention from a much more important need—reviving the economy. It seemed like Obama spent just a few months on his stimulus bill and then a full year on health care. Recall in this regard how many times the president had to reassure the public that he would pivot back to the economy. And the fact that the Commerce Clause power is at stake is telling. If the commerce power is designed to allow the national government to promote economic activity, why were the Democrats in Washington using the power for another, less pressing purpose?