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Democrats Take Short Health Care Victory Lap

GOP Pounces On Ruling That Mandate Is Tax and Vows Repeal

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Angela Botticella (center) of Know Your Care celebrates with supporters of the Affordable Care Act as the Supreme Court announces its decision about the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment.

President Barack Obama won a major victory on his health care overhaul from the Supreme Court on Thursday, but Democrats were the first to try to change the subject, as both parties gauged the political implications for the elections.

Republicans, who were briefly stunned by the decision, quickly seized on it as a rallying cry for November — and the need to replace not just the law but also Obama and the ruling Senate Democrats.

House Republicans announced within an hour of the court’s decision that they would hold a vote on July 11 to repeal the law.

Behind the scenes, Democrats at the White House and on Capitol Hill hugged in celebration of the court’s decision to uphold the bulk of the law. But the momentary joy didn’t dispel the fact that the law remains unpopular nationally. And while Obama and other Democrats paused Thursday to give thanks for the decision and highlight the popular benefits in the law, they also immediately sought to shift the conversation back to jobs and the economy.

Republicans initially were surprised by Chief Justice John Roberts’ alliance with the court’s four liberal justices to uphold the law. Roberts, nominated by President George W. Bush in 2005, has been a darling of conservatives but ruled that the law’s penalty for not buying insurance was constitutional as a tax.

But the GOP quickly regrouped, accusing Obama of misleading the public on the issue and of endorsing a tax increase on middle-income Americans, and they pivoted back to their message that the law must be repealed.

“We pass plenty of terrible laws around here that the court finds constitutional,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “There’s only one way to truly ‘fix’ Obamacare, and that’s a full repeal.”

Obama and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney dueled in back-to-back statements on television.

Acknowledging the political downsides, Obama ticked off the popular benefits in the law while arguing again for the individual mandate at its heart.

“It should be pretty clear right now that I didn’t do this because I believed it was good politics,” he said. “I did it because I believed it was good for the American people.”

Obama noted that Romney came to the same conclusion in Massachusetts. A law signed by Romney as governor of that state charges residents a tax penalty of up to half the cost of a health insurance plan if they don’t buy one.

Above all, Obama called on the country to move on.

“It’s time to move forward” and deal with the pressing issue of the day — the economy, he said.

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