— By a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court did what it was supposed to do — rule on the constitutionality of a law, rather than on whether it was good policy.
The court upheld the mandate to President Barack Obama's health plan, which required citizens to carry insurance or pay a penalty valid under Congress' constitutional authority “to lay and collect taxes” for the general welfare of Americans.
Because the feature of the penalty for failing to possess insurance would produce revenue, that constituted a tax, wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.
The penalty walked and talked like a tax, not unlike other taxes, like those on cigarettes or other disfavored things as incentives rather than raising revenue, said Roberts.
The court did declare one part of the law unconstitutional. That was a provision that the federal government pull part all the federal Medicaid funding from those states that did not expand Medicaid under the law. That was overreach, said the court, and an undue imposition of federal power on the states.
For Minnesota, this should have little impact since the state has been clear it will go through with the expansion. That means it will receive about $825 million to help provide health care, which it previously did with state funding with various state programs. Those funds are expected to increase to $2 billion between January 2014 and July 2015.
This is far from over, however. This ruling provides for both parties a clear distinctions and arguments for those who want to repeal the law or those who want it fully implemented. If the Republicans, who have threatened to repeal the law, win majorities in the House and Senate this year, they will see this as a vote on the health care law.
Already the party is disseminating Obama’s statements in a 2009 interview with ABC News stating the insurance mandate “is absolutely not a tax increase.” The GOP will seize on that.
It will also embolden the Democrats, who see the ruling as a victory for their cause, to get out the vote.
In the end, the Supreme Court did what we expected it to do — rule not on whether law enacted was good policy or needed for the country but rather would it stand constitutional muster. The policy question rests with the lawmakers and, ultimately, the voters.