Vowing to repeal President Barack Obama’s landmark 2010 health-care overhaul, congressional Republicans said they will try to use the Supreme Court’s decision today to their advantage in the November election.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, announced that the Republican-controlled chamber would vote again July 11 to repeal the law upheld by the court today, as Republicans in both chambers took aim at the taxes and fees in what they’ve termed “Obamacare.”
“Elections have consequences,” House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said today at a press conference in Washington. “The American people will make that evident.”
Whatever repeal efforts House Republicans make almost certainly will die in the Senate, where Democrats have control, and Obama would have the ability to veto such a bill if it passed both chambers.
The justices, voting 5-4, said Congress has the authority to require Americans to carry insurance or pay a penalty. That requirement is at the core of the law, which also requires insurers to cover people with pre-existing health conditions. The court limited the law’s extension of the Medicaid program for the poor by saying the federal government can’t threaten to withhold existing money from states that don’t fully comply with the expansion.
Democrats hailed the ruling. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, came to the Senate floor minutes after it was announced to praise the law as “the greatest single step in generations toward ensuring access to affordable, quality health care for every American” and said the decision should stop repeal efforts.
“Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress continue to target the rights and benefits guaranteed under this law,” Reid said. “They would like to give the power of life and death back to insurance companies. But the United States Supreme Court has spoken. This matter is settled.”
House Republicans, who passed a bill, 245-189, to repeal the health-care law in January 2011, were meeting in the Capitol today to map out their next steps while acknowledging that they need a Republican majority in the Senate and a Republican president in the White House to change the law.
“The only way” to “get rid of Obamacare” after today’s decision “is to elect a Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican president this fall,” said Representative Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican.
While they didn’t offer immediate details on how they would proceed after a House vote on repeal, several Republicans said the court’s decision will give them a boost in the November election as they emphasize tax increases in the law that will start taking effect next year.
“Now we will let the American people decide if they want this huge tax burden,” said Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois, one of 87 Republican freshmen elected in 2010. “You have the Democrats and president Obama now supporting a huge tax.”
The health-care law will have “enormous ramifications for how Americans file taxes each year going forward,” said Kathy Pickering, a vice president at H&R Block Inc. “Today’s ruling that the individual mandate is a tax underscores how the law is being enacted through the tax system. Taxpayers will need additional guidance to understand the real-life implications.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said Republicans are “disappointed but not deterred” by the court’s decision. “This just makes the stakes of the next election all that higher,” Ryan told reporters.
The Republican strategy for winning control of the House and making gains in the Senate in 2010 was built on criticism on the health-care law, which also helped to spur the anti-government Tea Party movement. Now, the Republicans may be counting on the Supreme Court ruling to fire up their base.
House Republicans already have voted 30 times to eliminate, defund or scale back parts or all of the health-care law, most recently passing a measure to repeal a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices set to take effect in January.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said today he would press efforts to do away with the law, which he said the court’s ruling showed was “a tax.”
“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 in a statement.
On February 2, 2011, all 47 Senate Republicans voted in favor of repealing the law. The chamber’s 53 Democrats killed that effort.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires people to obtain health insurance or face financial penalties, and among other things provides subsidies to help people purchase health insurance on state-level exchanges and expands coverage of pre-existing conditions.
“There is not a big tax increase,” said Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who championed the health care law. “The only ones that will get taxed are those who will not buy insurance, but that is a relatively small penalty.”
Joseph Antos, a health policy expert and critic of the law at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington group that advocates for limited government and free markets, said today in an interview that House Republicans’ only legislative recourse is to make good on their promise to hold a vote repealing the law.
“That might make it out of the House, but it won’t make it out of the Senate,” Antos said. “It’s dead for this year. If there’s any recourse, it’s getting their candidate elected president.”
Democrats, who provided all of votes to pass the health overhaul in 2010 before losing control of the House in midterm elections later that year, called the ruling a vindication of the law and a victory for the health of the American people.
“With this ruling, Americans will benefit from critical patient protections, lower costs for the middle class, more coverage for families, and greater accountability for the insurance industry,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who was House speaker when the law passed, said in a statement.
Asked by reporters whether the ruling gives Republicans a political opening, Pelosi said, “The politics be damned: This is about what we came here to do.”
Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, said in a statement that the ruling affirms the Supreme Court’s “position as an institution above politics.”
“Just as Speaker Boehner vowed not to spike the football if the law was overturned, Republicans should not carry on out of pique now that the law has been upheld,” Schumer said.
A plurality of Americans, 43 percent, said they wanted to retain the 2010 law with only small modifications, while 15 percent said the measure should be left alone, according to a Bloomberg National Poll conducted June 14-18. One-third said the law should be repealed.
Almost three-fourths of respondents, 71 percent, said politics would influence the Supreme Court’s decision, with 20 percent saying the court would decide solely on legal merits. Five justices are Republican appointees, and four were appointed by Democrats.