Supreme Court: Obamacare dodges bullet, but so do Republicans

President Obama won a big victory Thursday as the court upheld a key part of Obamacare. Republicans slammed the ruling, but are off the hook for an immediate fix. 

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday after the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, upheld a key provision of the Affordable Care Act.

President Obama won a major victory Thursday, as the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the Affordable Care Act that threatened to gut his legacy-making legislative achievement.

Across the country, beneficiaries of the law’s federal health-care subsidies who stood to lose them if the court had ruled otherwise are heaving a sigh of relief. Opponents of the law, including many Republicans, are back to the battle cry of “repeal and replace” over a law they say has produced federal overreach in the health-care system and skyrocketing premiums.

And while Mr. Obama and the Democrats are declaring victory, Republicans in a way are winners, too. Or at least they have dodged a political bullet. More than 6 million Americans stood to lose their subsidies, and public focus would have turned to the GOP-controlled Congress for an answer, had the Supreme Court ruled the other way.

No Republican contingency plans were in place. Now Republicans are off the hook and can bash Obamacare without the urgency of addressing the millions of people who would have been at risk of losing their insurance.

By the same token, the Supreme Court’s ruling reinforces the fact that the Democrats own the ACA fully. In 2010, the law passed solely with Democratic votes. And so if the 2016 elections are in part about the future of Obamacare, the broad partisan battle lines are clear, albeit with differences in nuance.

Public opinion on the law remains divided. Forty-eight percent of Americans say the ACA is either working well or needs minor improvements, while 50 percent say it needs a major overhaul or should be eliminated, according to a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll.

The court ruled Thursday that, despite the specific language in one passage of the law, the ACA intended for all Americans to be eligible for federal subsidies to purchase health insurance, and not just those living in states that ran their own health-insurance marketplace.

Soon after the decision was announced, Obama took to the Rose Garden to declare victory.

“Today, after more than 50 votes in Congress to repeal or weaken this law, after a presidential election based in part on preserving or repealing this law, after multiple challenges to this law before the Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” the president said.

Republicans in Congress and those running for president were quick to reject the idea that the ACA is now set in stone.  

Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and a top Republican contender for president, said the fight over Obamacare isn’t over.

"As president of the United States, I would make fixing our broken health care system one of my top priorities,” Mr. Bush said in a statement. “I will work with Congress to repeal and replace this flawed law with conservative reforms that empower consumers with more choices and control over their health-care decisions.”

House Speaker John Boehner also promised action on health reform, but as with Bush, offered goals but no specifics.

“We will continue our efforts to repeal the law and replace it with patient-centered solutions that meet the needs of seniors, small business owners, and middle-class families,” Speaker Boehner said.

On the Democratic side, top presidential contender Hillary Clinton echoed Obama’s view – that the law isn’t perfect but should be preserved and improved.

“I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to affirm what the authors of the Affordable Care Act clearly intended and wrote into law: that health insurance should be affordable and available in every state across the country,” Mrs. Clinton said. 

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