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Obama defends his health-care law. Could this become a campaign theme?

In somewhat less combative terms than he used on Monday, Obama again asserted that his health-care law is constitutional, saying he's not spending too much time 'planning for contingencies.'

By Staff writer / April 3, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks at the Associated Press luncheon during the ASNE Convention Tuesday in Washington.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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President Obama, defending his health-care reform law for the second day in a row against the prospect it will be struck down by the Supreme Court, said Tuesday he had  “enormous confidence” the law was constitutional.

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“We’re not spending a whole lot of time planning for contingencies,” he told a gathering at the Associated Press Annual Meeting.

Although his tone was less combative than in comments made in the White House Rose Garden on Monday, the president nonetheless told the assembled news executives that it would be an extraordinary exertion of judicial power for the high court to invalidate the measure.

“We have not seen a court overturn a law that was passed by Congress on an economic issue, like health care, that I think most people would clearly consider commerce,” Obama said. “A law like that has not been overturned at least since [the pre-New Deal 1930s],” the president said.

On Monday, Obama issued what appeared to be a warning to the high court that if it overturned the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act it would be engaging in the same kind of judicial activism that is frequently denounced by conservative commentators.

The president’s remarks sparked criticism that it is, in fact, the court’s job to enforce constitutional boundaries and ensure that the executive, legislative, and judicial branches do not exceed their assigned powers or usurp powers reserved to others.

“The point I was trying to make is that the Supreme Court is the final say on our Constitution and our laws, and all of us have to respect it,” he said. “But it is precisely because of that extraordinary power that the court has traditionally exercised significant restraint and deference to our duly-elected legislature, our Congress.”

He added: “So the burden is on those who would overturn a law like this.”

Obama appears to be refining a message that could become a central campaign theme should the high court strike down part or all of the law.

The legal challenge to the reform law centers on the measure’s so-called individual mandate – a government requirement that all Americans purchase an approved level of health insurance or pay a penalty.

At least five members of the Supreme Court expressed significant skepticism or concern about the prospect of ordering citizens to engage in a commercial transaction. Several justices said that if the government could order Americans to buy a product with the intent of regulating the purchase of that product there was nothing the federal government couldn’t regulate under its Commerce Clause powers.

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