The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on Thursday to uphold the country’s sweeping health care overhaul affected the presidential race almost immediately, with President Obama praising the decision as a landmark boon that will help all Americans and Mitt Romney pledging to make repeal his first priority as president.
How voters respond to those contradictory analyses could determine who wins the election.
“They have reaffirmed a fundamental principle,” Obama said of the high court. “Here in America, in the wealthiest nation on earth, no illness or accident should lead to any family’s financial ruin.”
In the brief remarks at the White House, Obama also touched on the decision’s electoral implications.
“Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country,” the president said. “Thanks to today’s decision, all of these benefits and protections will continue.”
Obama added, “What the country cannot afford to do is re-fight the political battles of two years ago or go back to the way things were.”
Minutes earlier, Romney renewed his pledge to repeal the law.
“What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States,” Romney said from a rooftop on Constitution Avenue in Washington, with the US Capitol in the background. “And that is I will act to repeal Obamacare.”
Romney’s campaign said it raised $1.1 million from more than 9,500 donors within hours of the ruling.
While Republicans assailed the decision, Democrats were relieved and perhaps stunned by a ruling that needed the unexpected support of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who generally sides with the court’s three other reliably conservative members. The majority ruled that the law’s individual mandate, which requires Americans beginning in 2014 to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, is a constitutionally allowed tax.
Romney, on his website and on the stump, has repeatedly praised Roberts and said that if elected president, he would nominate justices just like him.
On Thursday, Romney excoriated several aspects of the health care law, saying it was hampering businesses from growing, adding to the federal deficit, and magnifying the government’s role in the private health care decisions of average Americans.
“This is a time of choice for the American people. Our mission is clear. If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we’re going to have to replace President Obama. My mission is to make sure we do exactly that,” Romney said.
The decision will be a powerful and central campaign issue for both candidates. Obama will point to the ruling as an affirmation of the signature achievement of his first term, one that will offer health coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, protect citizens who have preexisting medical conditions, and work to curb runaway health costs.
Romney will cite the decision as the compelling reason he should be elected. The law, he will argue, is an unprecedented government intrusion into the personal lives of Americans, adds to the deficit, and makes job creation more difficult for businesses that cannot afford higher insurance costs.
But Romney also faces some challenges in capitalizing on the conservative fervor against the health care law. Romney passed – and since championed – a law in Massachusetts that included an individual mandate, just as the federal law did.
As Republicans now criticize the fact that the Supreme Court ruled that there is a tax included in the health care law – levied on those who don’t obtain health insurance – Romney may have to call the similar “fee” that he implemented in Massachusetts a “tax.”
Senator John F. Kerry called on Republicans to move on from the ruling and engage in constructive dialogue with Democrats.
“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,” Kerry said. “Enough time has been wasted in the United States Congress on pointless repeal votes designed to score political points.”
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com