Playing to win in the health care debate

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Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli isn’t the only Commonwealth Republican with a close eye on the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act. (Photo credit Zuma Press)

With the Supreme Court’s epic (and nearly unprecedented) six-hour, three-day marathon of Obamacare-related oral arguments finally behind us, it’s time to do the one thing we hate more than anything: wait.

Since the Supremes aren’t expected to rule until June, and we’ve got a column to write today, we thought it might be useful to pass the time by reviewing the various and sundry Executive Mansion residents and aspirants who are heavily invested in the outcome—for better and (more often than not) for worse.

Ken Cuccinelli
When the Cooch, in his role as Virginia’s attorney general, first challenged the Affordable Care Act, many people accused him of tilting at windmills. After all, a nearly identical health care system had already been instituted in Massachusetts (by Republican Mitt Romney, no less) without fanfare, and the Supreme Court hadn’t denied Congress’ ability to regulate interstate commerce since the Great Depression. But, while Cuccinelli’s own quixotic lawsuit against the ACA was quashed by a federal appeals court last September, his vocal criticism of the law’s so-called “individual mandate” was echoed repeatedly by the Supreme Court’s conservative justices during arguments, making the partial or complete invalidation of the law suddenly seem like a real possibility. This outcome, it goes without saying, would be a huge boost for Cuccinelli, and would significantly increase his chances of becoming the Republican nominee for governor. Which is why, we’re absolutely certain, the Cooch is secretly praying for both an anti-Obamacare Supreme Court ruling and an Obama presidential victory in November (see below).

Bill Bolling
As Cuccinelli’s main rival for the Republican gubernatorial nomination—and a high-profile supporter of Mitt Romney—the lieutenant governor desperately wants the exact opposite of everything above. If the court finds the ACA constitutionally sound, Cuccinelli looks more like an out-of-the-mainstream kook, and Bolling’s hand is strengthened. He would also be helped immensely by both a Romney primary and general election win—especially if the GOP nominee looked to a certain blow-dried southern governor to round out his presidential ticket, or if a Republican president appointed said governor to a cabinet post, thereby elevating Bolling to governor just in time for Virginia’s 2013 primaries. Which brings us to…

Bob McDonnell
Governor McDonnell’s calculations aren’t quite as complicated as his lieutenant’s, but neither are they simple. As both a supporter of Romney, who imposed an individual insurance mandate on the citizens of Massachusetts, and a fervent backer of Virginia’s recent law opposing the exact same mandate for the citizens of the Commonwealth, McDonnell has a very tight needle to thread when it comes to the politics of health care. Luckily, his Obamacare-related contortions pale in comparison to Romney’s, so being an anti-mandate governor might, somewhat perversely, help him in the long run. After all, Romney’s whole schtick is that federal mandates are an abomination, but state mandates are awesome (for states that like that sort of thing). So, in this context, palling around with a known mandate-hater might be just be the ticket. We can see the bumper stickers now: Romney/McDonnell 2012 —We have a complex, love/hate relationship with mandates!

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