Hillary Clinton has outlined a fairly predictable series of domestic policies so far in her presidential campaign: campaign-finance reform, a minimum-wage hike, and free access to community college. But she will be gifted a golden opportunity to define her agenda if the Supreme Court, in its King v. Burwell ruling, overturns a critical element of Obamacare: the billions in subsidies that are dispersed through the federal health care exchange.
As unpopular as the president’s health care reforms have been, a ruling that would make it difficult for middle-class Americans to pay for health care coverage would put Republicans in a political pickle. It would risk alienating voters who are no fans of Obamacare, but care more about their own bottom lines than the ideological food fights that have surrounded the law. They just want to pay lower costs for higher quality health care, and fear that the president’s health care reforms accomplish neither. But if Republicans insist on withholding the restoration of subsidies in exchange for other Obamacare concessions—and Democrats resist—the blowback of any ensuing gridlock could be serious.
Do Republicans celebrate that a central pillar of Obamacare is overturned, even if it makes them appear insensitive to the plight of the newly uninsured? Do they offer one of the many legislative alternatives being prepared, but settle for the status quo if Democrats aren’t willing to play ball?
If they can’t, the ruling’s consequences will lie heavy on the GOP’s shoulders. When your party has been relentlessly calling for the law’s repeal, but you can’t coalesce around an alternative, it’s hard to see voters giving Republicans the benefit of the doubt. And President Obama and Hillary Clinton won’t waste any time in exploiting GOP divisions for political gain.