With rumors swirling that the Supreme Court could issue a ruling as soon as next week on President Barack Obama’s health care law, Republicans, along with Mitt Romney’s campaign, are gaming out their plans in case the entire law, or part of it, is found unconstitutional.
While nothing is certain until the justices release their decision, the implications are undeniable: No matter which way the court decides, it is sure to unleash a firestorm of political posturing and punditry that will propel the somewhat dormant issue of health care forcefully back into the election year messaging fray.
From House Republicans’ perspective, the first step is clear: If the law is upheld fully or even partially, GOP leaders plan to pass a full repeal.
“We are, I think, united that if there is not a full overturn of the law, that we will put a repeal measure on the floor to totally repeal Obamacare,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters today.
Beyond that, however, the road becomes more convoluted for a party that has for years promised to not only do away with Obama’s key policy victory, but also to replace it.
Republican leaders have begun speaking with their Members about their options. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) met this evening with members of the GOP Doctors Caucus, made up of former physicians, nurses and hospital administrators. A source in the meeting said lawmakers met “to walk through potential Supreme Court outcomes and Congressional responses. ... The goal of the meeting is to inform our members of the conversations at the highest levels regarding how to react in the aftermath of each potential SCOTUS decision outcome and get their feedback on the process.”
The source said staff for Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) updated lawmakers on how House Republicans will coordinate their response with the campaign of Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
The source said that regardless of how the court rules, “Republicans will avoid the Democrats’ mistakes. We won’t rush to pass a massive bill the American people don’t support. ... There are dozens of bills put forward before and after the passage of Obamacare, which Members can point to as our ideas once we have willing partners in reform in the Senate and White House.”
After getting feedback from Members with medical backgrounds, the source said McCarthy will have more listening sessions with the Conference at large.
“We don’t know what the Supreme Court’s going to do, so you have to look at every different option,” McCarthy said after the meeting. “We’re going through different scenarios with what the Supreme Court could do.”
While Democrats are cautious about publicly acknowledging that the law could be struck down, it is clear they will be ready to defend it in the wake of the decision.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro indicated that if the justices invalidate the measure, House Democrats will continue to message on some of the law’s most popular parts.
“What we will have to deal with is what happens to pre-existing conditions, what happens to those young people who now have health care coverage, what happens to older Americans who now get their screenings for free?” the Connecticut Democrat said.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen said he plans to hold Republicans’ feet to the flame on their rhetoric promising a replacement.
“They told the American people that they were going to have an alternative that addressed all the issues that were dealt with as part of the earlier bill. We haven’t seen a thing,” the Maryland Democrat said.
Indeed, Republicans are anticipating public pressure to keep in place popular provisions within the law, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing people up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ plan.
Options are still being discussed, but Cantor said that the House would likely move on a series of bills to address these issues rather than a comprehensive replacement before the election. The piecemeal approach could include provisions from the GOP’s 2009 health care alternative, such as allowing people to purchase health care across state lines.
“I don’t necessarily think that we would take the step of countering with a comprehensive thousands-of-pages bill like Obamacare. I don’t think that’s what the country wanted. I think that’s what scared so many people,” he said.
Still, it’s unclear what Republicans in the House have the votes to pass, especially if, for conservatives, some of those provisions too closely resemble Obama’s law.
Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price said the work will hinge on convincing Members that it is necessary to provide the country a smooth transition from what the court decides.
“There are some things that have been instituted that folks have begun to rely upon and plan, make their family plans, based on the current proposals,” the Georgian said. “We will provide a rational positive transition for any court action so the American people can see that there are folks here concerned about the consequences of the court’s action.”
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said he’d prefer that an overhaul wait until after the elections.
“I think the best thing to do is you’ve got a campaign going now, you go and ask the people, what do you all think? ... Novel idea here. Let’s go talk to the people that hire us. If people have different views, then let the people know that so they can select candidates. ... I think it’s a perfect opportunity for democracy to work.”
The White House, meanwhile, has been largely mum about its own preparations for a court decision, repeatedly expressing confidence that the law will be upheld even though it acknowledges the possibility that it won’t. Privately, senior administration officials have said nobody knows how a court decision will play out.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today that the individual mandate at the core of the case and the law is “profoundly important, as it was, say, in Massachusetts and has been in its implementation in Massachusetts. I’m sure that’s why Republicans in Massachusetts and even at the Heritage Foundation thought that it was a good idea when they came up with it,” he said.
“But I’m not going to game out for you what ... a Supreme Court decision would look like if it were to come out this way or that way,” he said.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.