WASHINGTON — With a pivotal legal challenge settled Thursday by the Supreme Court, the battle over President Obama’s signature overhaul of the country’s health care system is headed back into the cauldron of Congress, giving Democrats little time to savor victory.
Republicans vowed to dismantle the law, with House Speaker John Boehner saying he could bring up a vote as early as next month to begin undoing the historic health care law. The vote, however, would be merely symbolic because Democrats in the Senate would surely block any proposal that would repeal or weaken any provision of the 2010 law.
“The Supreme Court has spoken. The matter is settled,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada.
But Republicans were not about to concede the battle.
Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, said the Supreme Court ruling would galvanize opponents to repeal the law.
“There’s a lot of resolve amongst our colleagues, and amongst the American people, to stop a law that’s hurting our economy, driving up the cost of health care, and making it more difficult for employers to hire new workers.”
Recent polls show Americans now mostly oppose the president’s health care law, which was largely affirmed by a 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision that upheld a key tenet requiring nearly all Americans to purchase health insurance.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, echoed those sentiments while acknowledging that political change needs to come first. He said he hoped “that with new leadership in the White House and Senate, we can enact these step-by-step solutions and prevent further damage from this terrible law.”
The debate is sure to spill over into races across the country, as Democrats and Republicans battle for control of the House and Senate in November. The health care law was already destined to be a crucial point of debate, particularly in battleground states. Democrats in 2010 lost control of the House and found their majority in the Senate narrowed in large part because of voter anger over the health care law. Thursday’s ruling was a vindication of sorts.
The debate over health care was a key talking point Thursday in the Bay State’s high-profile Senate race.
Democrat Elizabeth Warren’s campaign expressed relief that the Supreme Court upheld the controversial law, while Senator Scott Brown reiterated his opposition.
“By upholding this legislation, the Supreme Court has ensured that every American can get access to high-quality, affordable health care and fair treatment from insurance companies,” said Warren, a Harvard professor who describes herself as a consumer advocate.
“Now is not the time to refight the battles of two years ago. Our country needs to move forward to create jobs and opportunity for all Americans — not fight endless political battles. Massachusetts led the way in health reform, and we will continue to lead the way in our efforts to reduce the costs of health care and ensure a level playing field for middle class families.”
But Brown continued to contend that the health care law is harmful.
“The federal health care law may be constitutional, but it is wrong for jobs and the economy,” said Brown, the lone Republican in the Massachusetts congressional delegation.
“In Massachusetts, we had already dealt responsibly with the problem of our uninsured without raising taxes or cutting care to our seniors,” Brown said. “All we got out of this massive new federal entitlement is higher taxes, cuts in Medicare, and additional debt at a time when we can least afford it.”
In winning the seat long held by health care champion Edward M. Kennedy in 2010, Brown campaigned against the legislation and vowed to oppose its passage.
With House Democrats trying to win at least 25 seats to regain control of their chamber, Thursday’s ruling could help provide cover in competitive races, where the health care law is expected to loom large.
“This decision is a victory for 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,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who in 2010 as House speaker won passage of the law.
Senator John F. Kerry applauded the ruling.
“This is an important day for the Supreme Court and an important day for Americans who need affordable health care coverage,” he said.
“Those who have sought to demonize health reform need to put an end to their scare tactics. This needs to begin a new day, where the test is not what you can oppose but what you can propose.”