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GOP Sees Opening in Health Care Case

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case on the constitutionality of the health care law’s mandate to buy insurance. Republicans are hoping to use the case to encourage public opposition to the law.

Congressional Republicans are moving to re-establish health care as a political weapon against Democrats, as the Supreme Court prepares to consider President Barack Obama's reform law on the cusp of the 2012 elections.

The court is expected to hear arguments in March regarding the constitutionality of the law's federal mandate to purchase health insurance, and the justices could reach a decision by June. And while Democrats appeared inclined to wait patiently for the court's decision, top House and Senate Republicans on Monday were already considering filing briefs and exploring other avenues to influence what they suspect will be the re-emergence of health care as a major political issue.

"Throughout the debate, Senate Republicans have argued that this misguided law represents an unprecedented and unconstitutional expansion of the federal government into the daily lives of every American. Most Americans agree," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. The Kentucky Republican is likely to file an amicus curiae or "friend of the court" brief in the case, according to a senior GOP Senate aide.

Democrats and the White House expressed confidence that the mandate to purchase insurance will be found constitutional. Republicans are equally certain of the opposite, and perhaps that is why both sides are cheering the Supreme Court's decision to accept the case. Under review is an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that ruled the mandate unconstitutional, although other lower court rulings have upheld it.

Republicans, however, are lining up to try to exact political damage. The National Republican Senatorial Committee on Monday issued a press release to local media and grass-roots Republicans in Missouri targeting Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) over her support for the health care law. And several House and Senate Republicans are expected to sign on to amicus briefs.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a vociferous critic of the health care law, said he is exploring whether to weigh in with an amicus brief. King and many other Republicans believe that the bill's requirement that citizens buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

"I have already joined two at the lower-court level," King said. "We'll probably take a look at that and see what we might need to do. But I have not consulted with my attorneys on this at this point."

King added that he sees the Supreme Court announcement as a political winner for Republicans because either the law will be struck down, or the GOP will have another issue to help in their effort to try to defeat Obama in his bid for re-election.

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