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How Obama, Romney are spinning court's health-care ruling

Republicans and Democrats are putting their political spin on the US Supreme Court's historic and startling decision on the Affordable Care Act. As they head toward the presidential election, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have major challenges in interpreting the law.

By Staff writer / June 30, 2012

Physician assistant Anna Streuli examines Maria Guzman at a Multnomah County health center in Portland, Ore. The US Supreme Court upheld the individual insurance requirement at the heart of President Obama's health care overhaul, affecting the way that millions of Americans receive and pay for their personal medical care.

Rick Bowmer/AP

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Ever since the US Supreme Court issued its startling decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Thursday morning, the presidential campaigns of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been spinning the ruling like crazy.

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Just some of the issues with wildly different political interpretations include: Defining the details and impact of what the court says plainly is a form of taxation – the basis, in fact, of the constitutionality of what critics call “Obamacare.” What the outcome would be for Medicare. The number of already-insured Americans who would have to scramble to find new health care coverage. Whether or not the ACA is a “job-killer.” Whether or not the deficit would go up or down as a result of this landmark legislation.

Obama may have won big in the high court – “Did Obama Just Get His Mojo Back?” asks the headline on a piece at Slate – but both the President and his likely GOP competitor have major political challenges as a result of the ruling.

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For Obama, it’s the ACA’s cost to individuals and families of a massive new government program designed to reform health care insurance in major ways, and Republicans were quick to jump on that.

In the GOP’s Saturday radio address, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. (who’s a physician) said this:

“President Obama has repeatedly promised, and I quote, 'if you're a family making less than $250,000 a year, my plan,' he said, 'won't raise your taxes one penny.' Now, all of America knows the truth. The President's health care law hires more IRS agents to investigate you and to make sure you buy insurance – but it fails to deal with the shortage of nurses and doctors to actually take care of you.”

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion did say the ACA is constitutional because of Congress’s taxing authority, so that’ll take some explaining by the Obama administration.

What Romney has to explain is why that’s substantially different from his signature achievement as governor of Massachusetts: A statewide health insurance program that includes an individual mandate and the taxing authority to enforce it.

“I don't think of the mandate as a tax – I think of it is a free rider penalty,” Jon Gruber, the MIT economist who helped craft the Massachusetts and national laws, told Politico.com. “But if you want to think of it as a tax, then it is exactly the same tax … Romney imposed.”

Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation – a business-backed fiscal watchdog that has analyzed the state’s health care law for years – agreed, Politico reported. “If one’s a tax, the other’s a tax,” he said.

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