The conventional wisdom in the wake of Thursday's historic Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act is that while it was a huge policy victory for President Obama, it could be a political victory for Republicans running for Congress this fall. (The issue will be at best muted at the presidential level, given that the program known as Obamacare was modeled after a virtually identical Massachusetts plan enacted by Mitt Romney when he was governor.)
We'll see. It may be that the Supreme Court victory will embolden supporters to do a better job explaining and asserting the popular elements of the Affordable Care Act and making the point that for most middle-class Americans it will either mean no change in their health insurance (since they already get it through their employer) or make it easier and more affordable for them to purchase health insurance through the individual market. To date, Republicans have been winning the rhetoric about healthcare reform, seizing on confusion among voters who seem to believe that the individual mandate (now officially called a "tax" by the Supreme Court's ruling) will affect more than a relative handful of Americans.
In any event, in the wake of the decision Democratic candidate Julia Brownley certainly didn't shrink from talking about it. She issued a news release praising the decision and attempting to put Republican Tony Strickland on the defensive.
"Today's decision is great news for the millions of Americans who will have access to health care for the first time, to the seniors who will have the cost of their prescription drugs reduced, to those with pre-existing conditions who are being denied insurance, and to our small businesses who will be able to provide coverage to their employees at a lower cost," Brownley said in her statement. "Unfortunately, my opponent Tony Strickland wants to repeal these provisions and go back to the status quo of a system that enriches the insurance and drug companies but leaves middle-class Americans vulnerable to economic catastrophe for simply getting sick."
The Strickland campaign did not make a public statement on the decision. During the primary, he told me in an interview that he would vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act if elected to Congress and given the opportunity to do so.
Interestingly, however, earlier in the week Strickland seized an opportunity to speak out on behalf of government-financed healthcare. After Democratic leaders in the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to a budget deal that will eliminate the state's Healthy Families Program and transition the 880,000 children covered by it into Medi-Cal, Republicans in Sacramento rose to the program's defense -- with Strickland the first to raise his microphone on the Senate floor to speak out against the proposal.
"It's a shame the majority party wants to eliminate a program that has been a successful alternative for families and children across California," Strickland said in a statement released by his office. "We need to ensure kids have access to quality healthcare, not transfer them to a program with a history of poor performance."
It should be interesting this fall if the issue of government-subsidized healthcare comes up in any candidate forums featuring both of them. Strickland could be asked, given his stated feelings about Healthy Families, why he opposes a federal program to broadly expand access to quality healthcare. And Brownley could be asked, given her support for expanding access to healthcare, why she did not vote against a bill to eliminate a children's healthcare program in California that has been popular and effective.