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Democrats Warn of Health Care Ruling Aftermath

Democrats Warn of Health Care Ruling Aftermath

By Erin McPike - March 29, 2012

Some Democratic lawmakers in Washington are beginning to sound alarm bells in the wake of this week's oral arguments on the constitutionality of the national health care reform law. The Supreme Court is expected to rule in June on a challenge to the law's individual mandate, which could be struck down given the justices' line of questioning on the matter.

One Democratic member of Congress told reporters Thursday that if the court were to strike down the law, doing so could create chaos and would raise some serious questions, including: “Can our country govern itself?” And, the lawmaker surmised, “I don’t know if the court wants to cause that firestorm.”

Underscoring his point, he noted, “The fact is, justices do read newspapers.” 

There’s growing concern in Washington that neither the White House nor Democratic lawmakers has a contingency plan if the mandate -- which requires Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty -- or others parts are ruled unconstitutional. (Some Democrats say, however, that calls for contingency plans immediately are premature because the court’s decision is months away.)

Discussion centers right now, the member said, on how the oral arguments should be interpreted rather than what should be done later. On the flip side is the assertion that Republicans lack a fix of their own for an altered law.

John Ashbrook, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, explained, “Since day one, Republicans have advocated an approach that goes step by step to fix the cost problem.”

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman disagreed with the notion that dismantling the law or just the mandate would cause great disruption because, he said, businesses already face uncertainty about what the law’s implementation means for them and their financial outlook. More broadly, Republicans point out that rolling back the law now -- or at least pieces of it -- wouldn’t do that much harm because so little of it has taken effect. And Portman noted that by striking part of the law down, the court simply would be accelerating a given: that the reform measure will have to come back to Congress for more work, even as is.

On the immediate horizon, of course, is this year’s presidential election, which should provide some clarity about what will happen to the law down the road. Republicans roundly reject veteran Democratic strategist James Carville’s suggestion that dismantling the law would amount to a political win for President Obama because it would galvanize the left. They point out that the president is a constitutional lawyer, so declaring his signature policy achievement unconstitutional would be perceived as disastrous. 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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