NEW YORK -- To paraphrase Democratic former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Supreme Court had to rule on "Obamacare" -- the Affordable Care Act -- so we could find out what's in it.
In an opinion that defied all predictions, the nation's highest court judged Obamacare constitutional. Swing vote Anthony Kennedy did not join his liberal colleagues. Instead, conservative pinup John Roberts flew with the court's left wing. Among the pundits who paraded through TV studios before Thursday's decision, none saw this coming.
Writing for the 5-4 majority, Roberts agreed with Obamacare's free-market critics that Congress cannot compel people (via the individual mandate) to purchase a product (health insurance) to regulate these Americans. Insofar as the court restrained Congress' ability to deploy the commerce clause to such ends, it likely limited future mischief by professional troublemakers on Capitol Hill.
However, Roberts and Democratic-appointed Associate Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor decided to justify Obamacare's individual mandate as a tax. This truly is head scratching, as the mandate's costs were marketed as a penalty, not as the new individual mandate tax.
By letting the Obama administration proceed stealthily along a route it avoided publicly, Roberts and his four new buddies resemble cops who have stopped a motorist for speeding. When the driver explains that he was going 85 mph to enjoy his new transmission, the police officers reply: "Well, that would be illegal. But since you're late for work and want to keep your job, please floor it and get out of here." By allowing the mandate to survive as a tax, Roberts and the court majority have handed President Barack Obama a major victory -- and two major headaches (more on that later).
This clearly is a massive relief for Obama. Had Obamacare been rejected outright, he would have had to face voters with virtually zilch to show for his tenure. His $828-billion stimulus has stimulated nothing. Designed to keep unemployment below 8 percent, it instead presaged 40 consecutive months of joblessness at or above that level -- the worst such performance since 1948.
Cash for Clunkers merely shifted demand for automobiles earlier on the calendar, yielding no long-term benefit. Some $5.1 trillion in fresh national debt (up 48 percent since he arrived) has delivered feeble GDP growth of 1.9 percent.
Obama's sole triumph -- the much-appreciated and highly worthy Navy SEAL shooting of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden -- now drowns beneath a Niagara Falls of national security leaks. One blabbed detail, among many, outed a doctor who helped locate bin Laden. His thanks for helping American intelligence: a 33-year sojourn in a Pakistani prison.
Rather than run for re-election beneath a banner stating, "I got nothin'," Obama will brag endlessly about his signature accomplishment.
Still, Obama faces two potential migraines: First, the Supreme Court unwittingly has placed Obama's greatest hit on a collision course with one of his biggest promises. "If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime," Obama told a joint session of Congress on Feb. 24, 2009. "I repeat: not one single dime." By sticking with Obamacare, Obama must admit that he has stuck Americans with a new tax on nearly everyone, not just the "millionaires and billionaires" whom he decries by day and with whom he dines by night at $40,000 per plate. America's Spender-in-Chief now seeks another term as the Taxer-in-Chief.
Second, according to pollster Scott Rasmussen, 54 percent of likely U.S. voters want Obamacare repealed. Those numbers will go up, not down, as citizens realize that this 2,801-page monstrosity is an unworkable, bloated, Washington power grab turbocharged by a near-universal tax hike.
None of that rhymes with "four more years!" To paraphrase Forrest Gump: The Supreme Court is like a box of chocolates -- you never know what you're going to get.
Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. Email Deroy.Murdock@gmail.com.