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Health care ruling gives GOP a reprieve

“The fact is we are far better off to get away from the lawyering part of this and focus on whether or not it is a good law and doing what it should do,” said Newt Gingrich.REUTERS/File

WASHINGTON — Republicans took to Twitter, e-mail, and other electronic media minutes after the Supreme Court announced its ruling to uphold President Obama’s landmark health care law. The common theme: outrage, especially among 2016 presidential contenders.

Former governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas deemed the decision “an out-of-control act of judicial tyranny.” Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said it “turns both the rule of law and common sense on its head.” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called the justices “robed Houdinis.”

But observers said the Supreme Court ruling was actually a win in disguise for the GOP.

It allows Republicans to avoid the massive political backlash expected if the court sided with conservative plaintiffs and left more than 6 million people in 34 states without subsidies to buy health insurance.


“The court just saved the Republicans from themselves,” said Robert Laszewski, an insurance analyst with Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a private consulting firm in Virginia. “They were in no way ready to avoid the crisis that would have engulfed the individual market — half of those people on the exchanges and half off.”

Though the ruling guarantees that the 2010 health care law will be a GOP rallying crying for a fourth straight election, there’s some evidence that popular opinion is shifting. A CBS/New York Times poll released Monday showed for the first time that more Americans approve of the health law than disapprove of it, with 47 percent approving and 44 percent disapproving.

“The fact is we are far better off to get away from the lawyering part of this and focus on whether or not it is a good law and doing what it should do,” said Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and a 2012 GOP presidential candidate.

“The whole thing was drifting toward chaos,” he said.


The opposite outcome, he said, would have expelled millions of American from the program and been a “mess.”

Ari Fleischer, press secretary in George W. Bush’s administration, said the GOP “dodged a demagogical bullet that would have hurt the party and impacted its ability to ever repeal the law,” particularly since Obama can wield a veto pen until 2017.

Coming up with a legislative fix in the midst of a heated presidential primary also would have been complicated for the fractured GOP. The party has yet to rally around any alternative plan and, even if Republicans in Congress did muster votes for a new health program, obtaining the president’s signature would have been challenging while Obama still occupies the White House.

The ruling particularly simplifies politics for Republican 2016 contenders who are governors from states that use the federal exchanges. They include Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana along with John Kasich of Ohio, Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who are expected to join the race soon.

Walker said his party must now “redouble their efforts to repeal and replace this destructive and costly law.” Christie said the decision “turns common language on its head.”

Christie and Kasich stand out in the field since both accepted the Medicaid expansion that is available as part of the health care law.

During the 2014 midterm elections, there were more than 180,000 television ads aired against the health care law in key Senate races, according to consulting and tracking firm Kantar Media — and Democrats lost nearly every competitive Senate contest. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney pledged that he would “repeal Obamacare” even though the plan was modeled after a Massachusetts program he created. And in 2010, Democrats who supported the Affordable Care Act were toppled or felt headwinds.


Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, joined the outcry Thursday, saying the court’s “decision is not the end of the fight against Obamacare.” He also reached out to the grass roots, asking for $5 donations from voters who want to “fully repeal and replace” the law.

For the Democrats, the decision burnishes Obama’s legacy on a critical achievement from his first term. The president took a brief victory lap, speaking from the Rose Garden shortly after the decision was handed down.

“As the dust has settled there can be no doubt that this law is working,” Obama said. “It has changed and in some cases saved American lives.”

Democrats running for president predictably applauded the decision — though most of them acknowledge problems with the legislation.

“The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, but the evidence is clear: it’s working,” said Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner who tried to pass a universal health care bill during her husband’s administration.

“Republicans should stop trying to tear down the law and start working across party lines to build on these successes,” she said.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is surging in New Hampshire and Iowa polls, supports a different “single-payer” plan, but nonetheless applauded the Supreme Court’s decision. “It would have been an outrage to throw 6.4 million people off health insurance,” he said.


Matt Viser of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Annie Linskey can be reached at annie.linskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.