For Congressional Democrats anticipating the Supreme Court’s health care decision, the question is this: Why rush?
Republicans are quick to highlight their preparations for the court’s decision. They have promised immediate action to repeal what is left of the law if it’s not completely struck down, and they have said they will hold individual votes on the law’s more popular elements.
But in facing the public, many Democrats downplay the possibility that the court could strike down President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
“We’re confident that the law’s going to be upheld,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. “It would be a dramatic narrowing of the jurisprudence of 70 years on the Supreme Court that gives Congress the ability to regulate commerce” if the court strikes it down.
Behind the scenes, some Members and aides are broaching the possibility. Nevertheless, House and Senate Democrats are not expecting a flurry of legislative activity once the Supreme Court rules.
Instead, a Senate Democratic leadership aide said, they are taking their cues on how to respond from the White House.
“It’s unlikely that Congress would take up the health care bill again before the election,” the aide said, adding that any efforts by Senate Democrats would not be embraced by the Republican-led House. “To the extent that those discussions are taking place, they are being led by the White House.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said last week at a White House forum on the law and women’s health issues that the administration remains “confident and optimistic” the law will be upheld.
But if the ruling proves unfavorable, she added, “We’ll be ready for court contingencies.” However, she offered no details about how the administration would respond.
One House Democratic leadership aide said any response will likely be measured.
“I don’t think you’re going to see the day the court decides a unified, ‘This is what we’re going to do today,’” the aide said. “There’s no immediate rush. It becomes a message point. It’s going to become a campaign issue.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated at her Thursday press conference that she plans to defend the law. “I’m very proud of the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “I think the understanding of it has been jeopardized by misrepresentations that have been out there relentlessly.”
Indeed, Democrats acknowledge they fudged the messaging war: “Republicans did a very good job of vilifying the idea of health care reform. But then you get into the pieces of health care reform, Americans like it,” the House aide said.