Why Republicans see a loss in the Supreme Court as a win at the polls

Supreme Court's 5-to-4 ruling upholding President Obama's health-care law gives Republicans a new case to repeal the law, hammer taxes, and rev up the party base.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) of Ohio (r.) with House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia (l.) reacts to the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Republicans were spurned by the Supreme Court on Thursday – but if the reaction to the nation’s highest court upholding President Obama’s signature health-care reform law is any indication, the GOP will do its best to ram the court’s decision down Democrats’ throats between now and November.

“The Supreme Court spoke today, but they will not have the final word,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R) of Washington, who is GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign point person on Capitol Hill. “The American people will have the final word in November.”

Had the court struck down the law in its entirety or in part, there may have been a need for legislative fixes to federal health-care law – whether to reinstate popular provisions from the health-care reform bill or fix gaps blown open in the law by the Supreme Court, for example. But because the court upheld the law, the issue was powered straight into the realm of electoral politics.

Congressional Republicans, it became clear Thursday, are going to leverage the Supreme Court’s decision in two ways.

First, they are going to hammer health-care reform, a top issue for many in their conservative base. But this tactic alone risks falling into Democratic talking points that Republicans are stuck in the past and losing their focus on what both sides agree is the election’s No. 1 issue: the economy.

Thus, they are also going to make the case that the health-care law is a job killer – and take it to the polls in November.

While Republican leaders were wary of discussing the political implications of the day’s decision, conservative advocacy and outside political groups were not so shy.

“While we would have preferred to see Obamacare struck down, this decision will drive Republican voter intensity sky-high,” said Steven Law, the president of the granddaddy of all conservative "super political-action committees," Crossroads GPS. “The last time Obamacare was litigated in a general election, Republicans picked up an historic number of seats in the US House and made big gains in the US Senate.”

Mr. Law continued, in a statement: “Our message is that even if the Supreme Court couldn’t protect Americans from what this law will do to their jobs and health care, voters can and will fight back. The Supreme Court effectively made the 2012 elections the most important in a century, and dramatically energized the center-right coalition in the process.”

The most conservative wing of coalition, led by tea party favorites like Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, largely want the law ripped out by the roots.

“This government takeover of health care remains as destructive, unsustainable, and unconstitutional as it was the day it was passed, unread, by a since-fired congressional majority,” Senator DeMint said in a statement. “Now, as then, our first step toward real health care reform and economic renewal remains Obamacare’s full repeal, down to the last letter and punctuation mark.”

As such, House Republicans announced Thursday that they would vote to repeal the health-care law on July 11, the week both chambers return from recess, for the second time since its passage. With Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, the measure will both undoubtedly pass and then assuredly die in the Democrat-held Senate.

But going after a full repeal has its downsides. For one, that tack risks being ripped asunder by Democrats who see the GOP’s fixation on health care as a way to paint the party as focusing on the past – and not on jobs.

“No one thinks this law is perfect. But Democrats have proven we’re willing to work with Republicans to improve the Affordable Care Act. Millions of Americans are still struggling to find work,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada on the Senate floor Thursday. “Our first priority must be to improve the economy. It’s time for Republicans to stop refighting yesterday’s battles.”

Moreover, there are popular provisions in the law – such as changes that would allow young people to stay on their parents' health insurance until the age of 26 and bar insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions – that would be wiped away at the same time.

Republicans are “going to have a vote to say if you're a child and have a preexisting medical condition and no longer can be discriminated against, we're going to overturn that. If you're a senior and you're paying less for your prescription drugs and you're getting free preventive checkups and the rest, we're going to overturn that. If you're 26 years old and under … your parents' policy, pull the plug on that as well,” said House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California at a press conference Thursday.

And so Republicans will hammer home the message that the prevailing legacy of the health-care law is that it inhibits the American economy.

The first words from the lips of House Speaker John Boehner’s (R) of Ohio at a Thursday press conference? “The president’s health-care law is hurting our economy. It’s driving up health-care costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire new workers,” he said.

Moreover, the opinion of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts affirming the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate by saying the Congress has the right to levy taxes gave Republicans an ability to tie the health-care law to their favorite bugaboo of economic progress: taxes.

“Health care is an extremely important, personal issue, and the Supreme Court’s decision to call the individual mandate what it is – a tax on every American – makes clear this law is not what President Obama sold to the American people,” said Brad Dayspring, a former staffer for House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia and senior adviser to the YG Network, a GOP political-action committee.

That sentiment was echoed by numerous Capitol Hill Republicans.
"The American people now have a very clear choice,” said Rep. Renee Ellmers (R) of North Carolina, a registered nurse, in a statement. “They can either support historic tax and spending increases, fiscal uncertainty, and unprecedented government overreach into nearly all aspects of their lives or join us in fighting to repeal this Obamacare tax and work for real solutions.”

What is clear as the Supreme Court's decision reverberates around Capitol Hill is that the argument will be prosecuted through November and beyond.

“Americans want us to start over,” said Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky on the Senate floor. “Today’s decision does nothing to change that. The court’s ruling does not mark the end of the debate. It marks a fresh start on the road to repeal."

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