Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On US Supreme Court's verdct on Obamacare
"As I see it" column
The Independent
July 7, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

This is the year that Americans are going to the polls to elect the President for the next term. Incumbent President Barak Obama is seeking re-election against former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney. With just 4 months left for the election, President Obama cannot say with any degree of certainty that he would be returning back to the White House. 

President Obama is fighting in the back drop of some pretty gloomy economic scenario.  Latest unemployment figure which is a key focus on the state of the economy was 8.2%. GDP growth in the last quarter was 1.94%. The President needs unemployment figure to come down to 7.8% and GDP growth enhanced to 2.4% for feeling comfortable about his re-election bid. 

Traditionally, the state of the economy is the most important factor that makes and breaks a presidential candidate. The famous quote “it is the economy, stupid” that explained the unexpected defeat of the elder Bush in 1992 underscored the importance of economics in the outcome of a Presidential election.  At the beginning of 1992, the popularity of President HW Bush was over 90%, based on his success in leading his country successfully in the First Gulf War, when he started his re-election bid. He was defeated in the end by a political unknown Bill Clinton because the economy worsened with the President basking on his Gulf War victory without paying attention to people’s economic misfortunes. 

This time  President Obama is facing a re-election bid with high scores on foreign affairs with successes in Iraq and Afghanistan and of course in giving Americans the scalps of Osama Ben Laden and the top Al Qaeda leaders that they held responsible for the 9/11.  Unfortunately, President Barak Obama is facing tough economic times as the elder Bush. That puts his chances of re-election too close for call going by traditional political wisdom. 

There are of course some differences between what happened to the elder Bush and President Obama’s current predicament. First, President Obama is fully conscious of the economic issues. Second, the country’s economic problems are basically the outcome of a meltdown in Europe and the two wars the US fought in Iraq and Afghanistan where the country has spent mind boggling sums of tax payer’s money. President Obama could have blamed his predecessor and opted for the easy political way out.  He did not do that. Although he opposed his predecessor’s foreign wars as a Senator, as the President he embraced both, and did not blame the Republicans for the economic woes of his administration and the country. 

Nevertheless the Republicans have not spared him. While President Obama tried to reach out to the Republicans for bipartisanship on national issues, they rejected him from day one of his term. They refused to give him any credit for ending successfully the wars they started and messed. They also blamed him for the economy they destroyed. They have portrayed his administration as a heavy spending one that they say has led to the country’s huge debt and all the country’s economic ills, including the high level of unemployment and slowing down of GDP growth. 

They have attacked his major election promises to the US public, his message of change with zero level tolerance. The Republicans attacked his “Dream Act” with which he tried to tackle the US’ huge immigration problem. They also attacked his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), popularly called Obamacare, passed in 2010 and to take effect from 2014 to provide health insurance in a country where unbelievably 49.9 million Americans were un-insured in 2010 according to the US Bureau of Statistics. The opponents took PPACA to the Supreme Court in an effort to declare the ct unconstitutional.  The President was given unexpected good news on PPACA at a time he was feeling pressure on the economy.  

The US Supreme Court divided 5 to 4 in favour of the Republicans decided 5/4 that PPACA is constitutional. The President was given what could turn out to be a big impetus for his re-election by Chief Justice John Roberts who cast the deciding vote and bailed out the President at a politically crucial time. No one expected this from Judge Roberts who was appointed to his post by the Republican administration of the younger President Bush and whose nomination was opposed by President Obama as a Senator. Justice Roberts interpreted the PPACA as a tax and ruled it constitutional on the ground that the Congress has the power under the constitution to tax. 

As a consequence of the ruling, a large number of the 49.9 million un-uninsured would now have health care Further; an insurance company would not any longer be able to refuse insurance for any pre-existing health condition. Also, the capping of health care costs by insurance companies would go. All three are major health care reforms that would bring fundamental changes in the US health care system from which millions would benefit. The PPACA is the most significant healthcare reform since Medicare in 1965 that guaranteed healthcare insurance for the elderly. 

The Republicans nevertheless have vowed to fight the ruling at any cost. Mitt Romney has said that it would be his first task as President if elected to destroy Obamacare. Interestingly, as Governor, Mitt Romney introduced a prototype of the Obamacare that he is now vowing to pull down! The Republicans are arguing that Obamacare would bring to the average family an additional US$ 200 plus in taxes a month to cover the costs for those who would now be brought under health insurance. They are also arguing that it would increase government spending and add to the government’s humungous debt under which the country is already reeling.  

It is true that in the short term, there would be increase in health care costs under Obamacare for those who are insured at present. It is also true that   that all the 49.9 million Americans outside the system would not come immediately under universal health care that Obamacare envisages because individuals could remain outside the system by paying penalty. Nevertheless, what Obamacare has done is it has given the country a start for the unfortunate 49.9 million whose only health care so far is to treat themselves with non-prescription drugs purchased at drug stores. 

Of course, Obamacare has also given those who number millions the chance to buy insurance with existing healthcare problems or continue to be treated at costs to be borne by the insurance companies even after costs of their healthcare hits the ceiling.  If Obamacare is allowed to the freedom to grow unhindered, it would bring health care costs down for all eventually while giving all Americans the opportunity to universal health care. 

Unfortunately, the Republicans are not willing to share the costs of healthcare of their less fortunate compatriots. Their logic which is difficult to understand is they struggled and reached the financial security to buy health insurance without help from any quarter. Therefore, their less fortunate compatriots should also do the same and should not expect assistance. They must earn health insurance or live without it!  

Obamacare has brought to surface views of conservatives in the USA which is hard to understand for a non-American; that socialist principles are contemptible and liberal views deserve to be condemned. One hopes that the universally acceptable ideals  of fellow feelings and the government and those prosperous would assist those who are less fortunate  that President Obama’s campaign upholds would play out positively in President Obama’s favour.  The decision of the Supreme Court could no doubt play a positive role but if only the Democrats are able to counteract the negative campaign of the Republicans. 

The US Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, despite some of the unbelievable views of the conservatives, has underscored its strength to the US system. The Chief Justice rose above partisanship and upheld Obamacare as constitutional fully aware that it could go against the chances political party that put him in office in a crucial presidential election. There are lessons here that Bangladesh could and should emulate. 

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt.

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