The Supreme Court's decisive 6-3 vote confirming the right of all Americans to federally supported health-care insurance should end the Republican Party's losing war on Obamacare — but it probably won't.
The party tried and failed in 2012 to win back the White House behind Mitt Romney and a pledge to "repeal and replace" the president's signature Affordable Care Act. Now it seems determined to continue the fight, to the point that most of its 2016 presidential aspirants have signaled their willingness to walk the same plank right through the next election.
Covering their deep disappointment that, for a second time, Republican-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts saved Obamacare with a ruling that flew in the face of today's conservative GOP, most of the candidates seem perfectly willing to fight the last war, with the same result.
In a sense, Justice Roberts served notice again that he, and not Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, remains the dominant voice, if not the loudest or most bombastic one, on the nation's highest bench. His ruling demonstrated a commitment to practicality in saying the health-care law enacted by Congress was never intended to bear legalistic means for its own destruction.
Congress, he said, "passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them," and therefore the court "must interpret the act in a way that is consistent" with that objective. It was enough for President Obama to proclaim that "health care is not a privilege for a few but a right for all."
Once again, the court's trio of naysayers — Justice Scalia, his echo Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — are left naked in the determination to poke holes in the social safety net first constructed during the liberal administration of Franklin Roosevelt and maintained through more than 80 years by Democratic and Republican ones alike.
Justice Scalia, with his customary sarcasm, accused Justice Roberts of "somersaults of statutory interpretation" and the court majority of being "prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites" — which is also the way Justice Scalia's foes often view his own votes.
Unable throughout the long fight to kill Obamacare to come up with a winning alternative to it, the Republicans seem bent on continuing to fight a rear-guard action as public opinion gradually swings in favor of the statute's reforms, which in any case are now firmly in place despite their horribly botched rollout.
Even Jeb Bush, the one presidential candidate who has stated his willingness to buck the party conservative orthodoxy in the 2016 primaries, rushed to declare that the court decision "is not the end of the fight against Obamacare." He said that, if elected, "I would make fixing our broken health care system one of my top priorities" and would "work with Congress to repeal and replace this flawed law with conservative reforms that empower consumers with more choices and control over their health care decisions."
Mr. Bush thus sought no daylight on the issue from the other Floridian candidate, Marco Rubio, who insisted that Obamacare "is still a bad law that is having a negative impact on our country and on millions of Americans." He, too, said he was committed to repealing and replacing it.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he would continue to make repeal central to his campaign for the presidential nomination, and "any candidate unwilling to do the same ... should step aside." But it's hard to believe that a party that recognizes the need to broaden its support among ethnic and racial minorities will want to peg its chances of regaining the Oval Office to this apparent lost cause.
Meanwhile, the court decision gives President Obama a second major victory in a week, the other being the turn-around congressional enactment of a law that paves the way for a Pacific trade deal, finally corralled with enough reluctant Democrats in Congress to produce a compromise package with the Republicans.
Not long ago, Mr. Obama's final two years in office looked certain to be shrouded in continuing partisan rancor. Suddenly a ray of hope has appeared, suggesting that he may yet leave office with a positive legacy, despite having been bogged down by inherited wars and by a depressed economy from which he still strives to extricate the country.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former longtime writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is email@example.com.