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November 05, 2012 8:43 AM The 2012 Stakes, Part III

By Do Hyun Kim

This is the last in our series on what’s at stake in this election.

Healthcare

Obamacare is the most prominent issue at stake in this election. Republicans have vowed to repeal Affordable Care Act (ACA). There is a reasonable chance that Republicans will be able to take both houses of Congress, if not in this election then in the 2014 midterms. If Obama wins, he will veto any attempt to repeal ACA, but if Romney wins, Republicans will be able to remove most of provisions of the ACA through filibuster-proof budget reconcilation.

However, repealing ACA will not be as easy as it looks. First, Republicans will have to overcome the opposition from the red states. Harold Pollack says in our 2012 January issue:

Repeal would have a disastrous budgetary impact in many red states, particularly those with large populations of uninsured, poor, and near-poor citizens. Under the act, the federal government is slated to finance virtually the entire cost of health insurance for people made newly eligible for coverage. States would also receive large subsidies through the new exchanges. States would be particularly harmed if Republicans convert Medicaid into a blockgranted program.

Second, says Pollack, Republicans will have to tolerate political setbacks from repealing
the ACA:

Right now, if patients dislike restrictive mammography guidelines, they can blame “Obamacare.” If physicians dislike aggressive cost control or their increasing difficulties practicing outside large care systems, they blame “Obamacare.” Governors who don’t like rising Medicaid costs blame “Obamacare.” Employers who don’t like the rising costs of health coverage blame “Obamacare” too. (These patients, physicians, governors, and employers are wrong to blame the new law, but that’s another matter.)
If the Republicans break health reform, they risk owning the results. And there will still be much to dislike in American health care.

So, even if Romney is elected, Republicans might be hesitant to repeal many of the provisions of the ACA. However, we would be being too optimistic if Republicans will withstand to preserve the Obama’s signature domestic policy legacy when they control both Houses of the Congress and Romney sitting in the oval office.

The Environment

Republicans have insisted the EPA is a job killing agency, and several prominent Republicans have called for it to be eliminated. But as David Roberts wrote in our print issue, Republicans wouldn’t need to shutter the agency to remove most of its power. Instead, by removing the EPA’s ability to change regulation as new science comes in without getting Congress’s permission first, the agency could be hamstrung:

It’s difficult to overstate how radical a change this would represent for U.S. government. It would subject fifty to a hundred regulations a year to the partisanship, rancor, and gridlock of Congress. Every rule would be a new opportunity for lobbying and industry influence. Worse, legal observers say the bill does not clearly prohibit a filibuster in the Senate, raising the possibility that a determined minority of forty senators could effectively shut down federal rule making. REINS would not overturn the Clean Air Act or shutter the EPA, but it would end forward momentum in environmental law, freezing it in place.

If Obama is elected, he would veto any bill of this sort, and the EPA—which is now about the only chance of serious action on climate change—would be preserved.

The Courts

There are currently 84 vacancies in the federal appeals and district courts. Obama has not been able to get Republicans in the Senate to agree to confirm judges for those seats, but if Romney wins, he will probably be able to fill them with conservative judges quickly. Also, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 79, and if Romney wins, he’ll have an opportunity to establish a majority of reliably conservative justices on the Supreme Court, possibly for decades.

Education

Obama has largely stopped enforcing No Child Left Behind, granting waivers for states that agree to certain conditions. Many of Romney’s education advisers worked in the Bush administration, and Romney will ask Congress to reauthorize the law.

The two candidates have similar positions on higher education policy, though there are some differences. The stimulus legislation gave families with children in college a tax credit, called the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which Romney would allow to expire. Romney has not clearly stated his views on the Pell Grant program, which Obama expanded, but the budget his running mate proposed would have reduced funding for the program by 42 percent next year.

Obama also eliminated subsidies for banks offering federally guaranteed student loans. Now, the federal government loans the money directly to students, saving taxpayers money. Romney will undo the reform.

Finally, don’t miss our piece on Obama’s top 50 accomplishments.

Do Hyun Kim is an intern at the Washington Monthly.

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