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By Steve Teske
Congressional Democrats June 28 hailed the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of the health care reform law, while Republicans said they will redouble efforts to repeal the law in light of the decision, but added the presidential election this fall will ultimately decide the law's fate.
The 5-4 ruling by the court essentially leaves in place the political status quo in Congress surrounding the law until the upcoming presidential and congressional elections (see related article).
The House GOP leadership said it would again bring legislation to the floor July 11 to repeal the law. The House already has voted numerous times to repeal the law or parts of it, but the legislation has not been taken up in the Democratic-controlled Senate. That political dynamic is not expected to change until after the elections, if then.
While Republicans vowed to continue to fight the law, they also said the electorate will have the last say in the matter by electing presumed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has pledged to repeal the law.
“We are more determined today than ever to repeal this law,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) told reporters at a House GOP news conference on the court ruling. “The Supreme Court spoke today, but they won't have the final word--the American people will have the final word.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) outlined the GOP's case against the law, including that it is hampering job growth and will raise the cost of health care. He said Republicans are ready to work with a president on “common-sense steps” to change the health care system, although he offered no specifics and Republicans are unlikely to offer a vision of their own on health care before the elections.
“There's a lot of resolve amongst our colleagues, and amongst the American people, to stop a law that's hurting our economy, driving up the cost of health care and making it more difficult for employers to hire new workers,” Boehner said. “The American people want this bill repealed. What they really want are common-sense steps that will empower them and their families to choose the doctor they want, at lower cost.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters the court ruling “underscores the importance of this election,” saying the electorate will have a choice in November about competing visions for the nation's health care system.
“We have entered an age in which the government, Washington, will be controlling health care, unless something changes,” Cantor said.
With repeal of the law, “Then we can clear the way towards trying to again focus on accomplishing a health care future that is premised on patient-centered care, lowering cost and affording better access,” Cantor said.
Congressional Democrats said the court's decision confirms the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will allow millions of Americans to get health care coverage, and maintains important reforms. They called on Republicans to put aside attempts to repeal the law.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters June 28 the court's decision “is a victory for America's families” and highlighted the benefits the law is bringing and will bring to individuals.
“Now we can move forward to the full implementation of the law,” Pelosi said. “When that happens for the American people, the best is yet to come.” The law was approved by the House in 2010, when Democrats controlled the chamber.
Pelosi said the decision “was no surprise” to House Democrats since they have always held that PPACA is constitutional, adding the House Democratic caucus at a meeting “happily embraced the decision that came down.”
Pelosi criticized House Republican plans to again consider legislation to repeal the law, saying Republicans should move on now that the law has passed muster with the three branches of the federal government.
“This is just more of the same,” she said of House GOP attempts to repeal the law, adding that Democrats will use the repeal vote to further clarify the benefits the law will provide to Americans.
“This is the end of the challenge in the courts,” House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “I hope it also marks the beginning of cooperation in the Congress to assure that what is now clearly the constitutional law of the land will have the support it needs to be implemented promptly and effectively for the American people.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) echoed Pelosi's comments, telling reporters at a briefing that Republicans should drop efforts to repeal the law and focus on creating jobs.
“The Supreme Court has spoken--the matter is settled,” Reid said, calling the scheduled vote on repeal in the House “a show vote.”
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters that validation of the law by the court may cause many Americans who are ambivalent or opposed to the law to take a second look at it.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement that the ruling makes clear that Congress must repeal the law.
“Today's decision does nothing to diminish the fact that Obamacare's mandates, tax hikes, and Medicare cuts should be repealed and replaced with common-sense reforms that lower costs and that the American people actually want,” McConnell said. “It is my hope that with new leadership in the White House and Senate, we can enact these step-by-step solutions and prevent further damage from this terrible law.”
Stakeholders and observers said that while the court ruling is a victory for President Obama and congressional Democrats, the political squabbling over the law is unlikely to end anytime soon.
Julius Hobson Jr., a senior policy adviser at Polsinelli Shughart, Washington, told BNA June 28 that he views the fight over the health reform law to consist of three steps, the first of which was the Supreme Court decision. The second important event will be the November elections, while the third important event will be what happens after the elections regarding the law, which will depend on who is elected president.
“This is a political fight that will not stop,” he said. “We can't turn to the last page [on the reform law] until after the elections.”
Joseph Antos, a fellow in health care and retirement policy at the American Enterprise Institute, told BNA that the court decision removes a talking point for Republicans that the law is unconstitutional.
“There will be political posturing no doubt,” but with Obama in the White House and Democrats running the Senate, “there's not much [congressional Republicans] can do but hold show trials” about the law, Antos said.
Antos said Republicans are concerned that if the major parts of the law are implemented in 2014, it may be too late to repeal it.
“After 2014, the whole ball game changes,” he said.
Antos said Democrats will be able to argue that the law is good policy and is constitutional. “They can say 'We were right all along,' ” he added.
By Steve Teske
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