Skip to main content

What GOP must do if health care law overturned

By Ford C. O'Connell, Special to CNN
April 6, 2012 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Tea Party members protesting President Obama's health care law outside the Supreme Court on March 27.
Tea Party members protesting President Obama's health care law outside the Supreme Court on March 27.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Supreme Court is deliberating on President Obama's Affordable Care Act
  • Ford C. O'Connell: If the law is struck down, GOP must be ready to present an alternative
  • He says there is no doubt that health care will be a highly volatile issue in this election year
  • O'Connell: Republicans should offer a free-market approach to health care reform

Editor's note: Ford C. O'Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign, is chairman of CivicForumPAC, an organization that promotes conservative activism. He has appeared as a guest commentator on CNN, Fox News and other TV networks.

(CNN) -- No one will know until June how the Supreme Court will rule on President Obama's Affordable Care Act. What we do know is there are three possible outcomes -- the law is upheld, struck down or struck down in part -- and Republicans must be prepared for each.

If the law, also known as "ObamaCare," is struck down -- in whole or in part -- and the GOP is not prepared, it could find itself on the losing end of a vicious battle that could lead to four more years of Democratic control of the White House and perhaps Congress as well.

On Monday, the president for the first time commented publicly on the Supreme Court's deliberations. He warned the court about "judicial activism" and "a lack of judicial restraint" -- something Republicans have said they abhor. And he cautioned the "unelected group of people" -- the justices on the court -- against "overturn[ing] a duly constituted and passed law."

Ford C. O\'Connell
Ford C. O'Connell

He walked back those comments after critics, including even liberal columnist Ruth Marcus, took issue with them.

But the message was clear. The president may say he is confident the court will uphold the law, but it seems he's not entirely optimistic.

CNN Explains: Health care reform

And if the law is overturned, we can count on the president to raise the issue on the campaign trail. It's a reasonable strategy.

Plus, "relitigating" the court decision would be better for him than to run on issues such as unemployment rate, the state of the economy or the price of gas, which he hasn't handled well. That leaves the Supreme Court.

Although it may be hard to rouse conservatives to action right now since they don't know how the court will rule, it's better to be ready than not. If the law is overturned, they will need to come up with a comprehensive alternative. They can take some time to hash out the details by engaging the public on the issue. They can start by telling voters, in the words of the Cato scholar Doug Bandow, that "ObamaCare represents extraordinary federal overreach, a bid to legislate well beyond Congress' constitutional powers."

Republicans should offer a free-market approach that ends tax-favored treatment of workplace coverage; encourages competition, even across state lines; promotes consumer choice; and somehow addresses those with pre-existing conditions. In many ways, it would mirror portions of what Mitt Romney began to outline in a recent USA Today op-ed.

The Republican plan should seek to repair what is wrong with the health care law but deal respectfully with popular provisions, such as the one that allows young adults to stay on their parents' plans into their mid-20s.

They also must force insurance companies to explain why they are hesitant to provide coverage for those with pre-existing conditions without an individual mandate. Voters will want to hear something from Republicans that indicates they know, care and want to deal with this problem.

For most Americans, health care is like plumbing: They know they need it; they don't truly know how it works, but they definitely know when it's not working. And they sense now health care is not working, and the health care law -- flawed though it may be -- represents a legitimate attempt to fix it.

There is no doubt health care will remain a highly volatile issue in this election year. If ObamaCare is rejected by the court, it would present a huge opportunity for Republicans. They could look like problem-solvers by coming up with a smart proposal that takes the best ideas from the other side. And if they can message it properly, they'll be in a sweet spot.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ford C. O'Connell.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT