Health Care Law Circus Comes to Town

Naureen Khan

Get ready, folks, the circus is coming to Washington, and it’s not of the Barnum & Bailey variety.

The second anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act falls on Friday, just ahead of next week’s scheduled oral arguments before the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the law. To mark both occasions, ardent supporters and fierce opponents of the law have put together an impressive slate of eye-catching, news-making, crowd-baiting, noise-generating events meant to be shows of strength for their respective convictions.

They run the gamut from somber panels teasing out the ramifications of repeal —  the Heritage Foundation’s “Obamacare on Trial: The Impact of the Court's Rulings” versus the Center for American Progress’ “Learn Your Power: How the Affordable Care Act Helps LGBT Americans” — to a brass band and a church choir singing the law’s praises in front of the Supreme Court building.

Demonstrations surrounding landmark Supreme Court cases are nothing new, but the hoopla surrounding this one promises to particularly boisterous.

Conservatives have organized two large rallies, harking back to the beginnings of the tea party, a movement that was catalyzed in large part by the passage of the health care law. The Tea Party Patriots have snagged former presidential candidate Herman Cain along with Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to appear at their “Road to Repeal” rally on Saturday afternoon in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill.

Americans for Prosperity is hosting a second “Hands Off My Health Care” event on Tuesday afternoon, featuring such conservative leaders as Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; Allen West, R-Fla.; Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; as well as Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Jim DeMint, R-S.C. At least 50 busloads of out-of-towners are being carted into the nation’s capital to attend.

Meanwhile, religious groups opposed to the law plan to “encircle the Court in prayer” on Sunday afternoon to “cry out for God to intervene regarding President Obama’s health care legislation,” according to a website maintained by several organizations opposed to the law. Participants will also place 3,300 flowers outside the court — one for every fetus they say is aborted every day and their mothers — and pray outside the Court during the proceedings.

Not to be outdone, a coalition of progressive groups that support the law has planned a birthday celebration of sorts. In addition to the band and the choir, they’ve set up a “Protect My Health Care, Protect the Law” media war room across the street from the Court's main entrance. Each day will kick off with a press conference, and every 30 minutes during the oral arguments on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday advocates will tell the story of how the law has personally benefited them.

The White House is avoiding the hubbub. It has no plans to publicly mark the anniversary on Friday, and will instead release a series of videos with families extolling the law’s virtues.

Two years after President Obama signed one of his administration’s signature pieces of legislation, the health care act continues to stoke heated passions. Republicans view the law, with its mandate that every individual buy health insurance, as government overreach and a gross intrusion into private lives. Democrats see it as a way to increase access and health care benefits.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Monday revealed that 42 percent of Americans believe the Supreme Court should throw out the whole thing, while only 26 percent said the entire law should be upheld.

None of it presumably matters to the nine justices who are charged with deciding whether the law is constitutional.

“Obviously we’re not naive to think that Justice Scalia is going to look out at the window and change his mind,” said Eddie Vale, spokesperson for the pro-health care law group, Protect Your Care. “But it’s a good opportunity to educate the broader public.”

The law’s opponents said they want to keep their indignation at “Obamacare,” as the GOP has mockingly termed it, on the minds of policymakers and elected officials.

“Personally, I hope that the Court is above paying attention to our voices, but they pay attention to the Constitution,” said Jenny Beth Martin, cofounder and national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots. “But the fact of the matter is that they are human beings, and we want them to know that we will be outraged if they don’t find this unconstitutional.”

Robert Blendon, a Harvard University professor of health policy who studies public opinion on major social issues, can’t quite figure out what all the peacocking is about. Polling regarding the law has remained remarkably stable—unsurprising given the deep philosophical divide over the legislation. About 41 percent of Americans favor it and about 40 percent do not, according to the trend in recent polls.

Still, there is some scholarship that suggests in cases with such large ramifications, the Supreme Court is averse to ruling against public opinion and therefore, each side has a stake in being as visible as possible. Moreover, this particular case will have huge political ramifications going into the 2012 elections.

“It’s much bigger than the health policy field,” Blendon said. “The issue of whether or not the bill is constitutional is a question of leadership and leadership judgment.”