Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court will decide in the midst of the 2012 presidential election if the government for the first time in U.S. history can force Americans under penalty of law to buy a product they may not want, need or can afford.

That product is a health insurance policy that virtually every American family must buy or else pay a nearly $700 a year penalty, or 2.5 percent of their income once Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is fully implemented in 2016.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a policy for a family of four would cost $20,000 a year.

In an exquisite example of judicial timing, the high court threw a political hand grenade into the elections that could go off just when President Obama will be running for re-election in a mediocre economy that he has failed to fix.

With high unemployment likely to persist through next year and beyond, and a turbulent economy that has sent poverty to unprecedented new heights, the very last thing Obama needs is to reignite and further enflame the battle over the most unpopular legislation of his presidency.

But the court, looking over its calendar for 2012, said it will hear arguments in the case in March and hand down its ruling sometime in June on the Constitutionality of the law that has been derisively named Obamacare.

Whichever way the court rules will likely present Obama with a larger and far more intense set of problems that will further threaten his bid for a second term.

If the court rules the law's mandate is unconstitutional, it will be an embarrassing political defeat for the president who has made healthcare reform his signature issue. It's one thing to lose a vote in Congress, but quite another for a president to be told by the Supreme Court that the bill he signed violates the highest laws in the land.

If the court upholds the legislation -- which I think is very unlikely -- it will inject further political fuel in the campaign to defeat the president to prevent him from implementing the new law and all its mandates, penalties, taxes and costly regulations. The Obama administration has already issued 10,000 pages of regulations, with a lot more to come.

Though it hasn't received much attention in the national news media, the campaign against Obamacare has won a number of legal, legislative and election battles in states that will be pivotal to the president's reelection bid.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.