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Obamacare's Scott Brown moment is still not over

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Opinion,Noemie Emery,Columnists,Obamacare,Scott Brown

"The Scott Brown Era lasted almost exactly three years," wrote Alec MacGillis in February 2013 — meaning the three years between Brown’s win in the special election in 2010 to fill the seat left by Ted Kennedy and his decision in 2013 not to run for the former seat of John Kerry.

But by July 22, 2014, when two district courts split on the legality of the Affordable Care Act, it was clear that MacGillis was wrong. In the same week, a poll revealed that opinion on health care was under more water than the Titanic, with twice as many Americans feeling hurt than helped by it; and while being pushed off the stage by four other crises, it had assumed a new life as an election-year issue.

With a new Supreme Court challenge looming, and more cases coming, Obamacare remains an unresolved issue four years after passage. Our long Scott Brown moment is not over yet.

The Halbig decision in the D.C. District Court, delivered to you by Scott Brown’s election, was the result of the choice made by President Obama to pass a huge, complex bill with no consensus behind it, and with much of the country opposed. While Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt went out of their way to ensure wide and bipartisan backing for the Civil Rights Act and for Social Security, Obama disdained such undignified measures.

But Johnson and Roosevelt were playing for history while Obama was playing for time, knowing his supermajority was a result of the fiscal implosion, and would quite quickly vanish, taking with it his chance to become a transformative president. When he took a bath in the 2009 off-year elections he plowed ahead anyhow: He was losing the country, but he still had his 60-seat edge in the Senate. The bills were a mess, but nobody worried: They could fix the loose ends in the bicameral conference. Then came Scott Brown.

Brown presented Obama with the fork in the road of his lifetime, and, unlike Yogi Berra, he could only pick one. One led to a compromise in which he scaled back his bill, tailored it so he could win some Republicans, and had a small, solid win upon which to build later. The other was to spit in the face of the voters, ram the Senate bill back through the House in its unvarnished version, and present the whole mess to a still seething public as a personal triumph of will.

He picked the second option, and has never recovered: the bill that emerged was filled with perverse incentives and contradictions that made it nearly unworkable and provided material for numerous lawsuits. And the Republicans, convinced he had stiffed not only them but the moral foundations of orderly government, decided to treat him in kind. His life (and ours) would be different (and better) had he picked option one and had a more normal presidency, but that would have offended his illusions of grandeur. Brown gave him the chance to indulge his worst instincts. He did.

When MacGillis wrote in 2013, health care seemed safe and Obama ascendant, but that was then. Now is now, when 59 percent of the people still oppose health care, new trials are looming, and Obama’s approval rating sits around 39 percent.

Much of this is the handwork of Scott Brown’s election, which did not kill the bill, but killed any hope of a clean one, or one that was viable. Our Scott Brown moment, it seems, is not really over. It may not be over for quite a long time.

Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."
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