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For Obama and GOP, Ruling Fails to End the Partisan Fight

For Obama and GOP, Ruling Fails to End the Partisan Fight

By Alexis Simendinger - June 29, 2012


What is it about the health care law that keeps challenging expectations? Chief Justice John Roberts sided Thursday with his most liberal colleagues to affirm the Affordable Care Act, to conservatives' dismay. CNN and FOX News, racing to be first Thursday, both got the Supreme Court’s ruling wrong, which momentarily misinformed President Obama, until he turned anxiously from a split-TV screen to see his White House counsel giving him two thumbs up. “Cognitive dissonance” is how one witness described the scene outside the Oval Office when Obama was hit with “you-lost, no-you-won.”

Recall it was Obama who once opposed a health insurance mandate and said in 2009 that the mandate wasn’t a tax, but then waged and won his arguments for a mandate that works like a tax. And it was Mitt Romney who helped craft an individual insurance requirement while governor of Massachusetts, and then asked voters Thursday to join him in repealing a law modeled on his own work.

Can anyone blame Americans if they are confused about whether the health reform law is good, bad, or something in between?

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 verdict may have settled a legal argument that the health law is constitutional and most Americans will be required to carry insurance or pay a penalty, but no one who weighed in Thursday silenced an ongoing partisan fight.

“What we won’t do -- what the country can’t afford to do -- is re-fight the political battles of two years ago, or go back to the way things were,” Obama said in a statement delivered midday from the cross-hall of the White House. In Miami on Tuesday, he defended the law and told supporters the choice was theirs. “You decide,” he said.

“Our mission is clear,” Romney said Thursday from a Washington rooftop, the Capitol dome behind him. “If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we have to get rid of President Obama.”

A senior administration official, speaking to reporters on background a few hours after the court ruled, said he doubted whether politics or public opinion would change much as a result of the ruling. Why? Because Americans’ daily lives have not been altered by the justices’ decisions, and the law will not be fully implemented until 2014, he said.

“Public opinion on the [law] has been remarkably stable for two years, and I don’t think anything the president says (or Romney, for that matter) will make much of a difference,” Brookings Institution fellow William Galston, a former senior adviser in the Clinton administration, told RCP in response to an email. “Only direct experience of the Act’s effects will change people’s minds, or alternatively, confirm them.”

Galston was talking about the consistently mixed feelings Americans voice about a law that has touched most of them only modestly as of 2012. In a FOX News Poll of 912 registered voters conducted this week, 39 percent said they favor the bill, 49 percent said they oppose it, and 12 percent -- a growing segment in comparison with previous surveys -- said they did not know if they favor it or oppose it. But 54 percent said the time and energy Obama devoted to the health law would have been “worth the effort” if the court had found the law unconstitutional.

It is exactly that toehold the president occupied Thursday as he reacted publicly to the decision. The White House accused Romney of trying to stir what one official called a bloody and partisan fight to repeal the law next January, should Romney win the election. Instead, Obama tried to present himself as a leader, the official said, working for a healthier, less financially burdened middle class and a health delivery system that costs less and produces better outcomes.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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