It’s the Obamacare, stupid: Why Election 2012 is about health care, not the economy

Opinion

Obamacare

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a campaign rally on the campus of the College of Southern Nevada November 1, 2012 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. With five days remaining in the presidential campaign, Obama travels today to Wisconsin, Colorado and Nevada after spending the last four days leading the federal government's response to Superstorm Sandy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Both parties, but particularly the Republicans, emphasize how this election is all about the economy. Voters overwhelming say the economy is their No. 1 consideration in picking a candidate.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spend most of their time on the campaign trail touting economic plans, with Obama arguing he has already put the economy on the right track while Romney says 12 million jobs will be created under his watch.

But in truth, presidents have very little control over the economy. No presidential candidate can definitively say a certain number  of jobs we will be created while they are in office, as factors totally out of their control (the Internet boom during the Clinton years, the Wall Street meltdown President Obama inherited) can have huge influences on the economy. Romney can safely claim to create 12 million jobs in part because non-partisan analysts suggest the American economy will improve and create about that many jobs no matter who is president.

In fact, this is the health care election, or more bluntly, the “Obamacare” election. On no issue are the candidates further apart, as Obama pledges to implement his massive health care reform while Romney plans to gut it. And there are few issues where the government has more direct power. Under Obama’s health care law, the government is already requiring health insurance companies to let young adults stay on their parents’  health care plans until they are 26 years old.

When fully implemented over the next several years, the law will provide subsidies to people who can’t afford insurance, give states billions to put more people on Medicaid, coordinate with states to set up new rules on what health insurance plans must cover and impose a number of other regulations on health care companies, most notably that they can’t charge higher prices for people who already have illnesses, and change how doctors and hospitals are paid under Medicare.

Some have dismissed Romney’s plans to repeal the president’s health care law, saying he would not pursue it in office. In fact, this is one of the highest priorities of Republican activists and members of Congress. Romney would have to at least attempt to repeal the law.

And if Republicans have 50 seats in the Senate, they could join with a Vice-President Paul Ryan and use a procedure in the Senate called reconciliation to eliminate much of the Affordable Care Act. (Here’s an ex-adviser to George W. Bush explaining how Republicans could eliminate most of Obamacare with 51 votes in the Senate, not the 60 required for most provisions.)

If Democrats remained in control of at least one chamber in Congress (likely the Senate), they could probably stop Romney from repealing the law. But that’s not the only way he could weaken it.