At the White House and on Capitol Hill, officials and their aides are spinning in advance and preparing their “day of” statements.
“I don’t know when it’s going to happen, so what I have in my head is, when we hear from the court that they’re going to announce a decision, I grab one or two of our staff people and a camera, and stand in front of the Supreme Court and comment,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of Congress’s most vocal critics of the law.
At issue is Obama’s signature legislative achievement, an expansive revision of the nation’s health-care system that the court could uphold, throw out or something in between — allowing much of the law to stand, for example, but striking down the requirement that individuals buy insurance.
On Capitol Hill, congressional Republicans have worked hard to synchronize their messages and communicate with presidential candidate Mitt Romney in hopes of getting a political bounce from the ruling, no matter which way it goes. Their plan is to immediately attempt to repeal what might remain of the legislation. Then, step by step, they would propose smaller measures.
In the Obama administration, which has largely declined to entertain questions about what might happen if the court rules against the law, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently acknowledged that officials are prepared for that possibility. “We’ll be ready for court contingencies,” she told a women’s health roundtable.
White House allies already are offering their spin in the event that only the “individual mandate” is overturned. Their message: The rest of the law could still succeed.
“Is [the mandate] important? Yes,” said Ronald Pollack, head of Families USA, one of the key consumer groups that helped craft the measure. “Is it the most controversial provision in the Affordable Care Act? Most certainly. But is it the heart of health reform? No, not even close.”
The posturing hints not only at the enormous and largely unknown consequences of the decision, but also the sensitivity surrounding the 2010 law, which has emerged as a significant issue in the presidential campaign.
Although polls show that Americans are stubbornly divided over the measure, parts of it remain very popular and many Democrats and Republicans agree that something must be done to rein in ballooning health-care costs.
Republicans, whose opposition to the legislation has been a rallying cry, sense a political opportunity in the wake of the court ruling. In a May 31 memo, House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) offered GOP members talking points to answer what the party would do if the court strikes down all or part of the law. A key point: “Republicans will not repeat the Democrats’ mistakes. We won’t rush to pass a massive bill the American people don’t support.”