Supreme Court health care decision has Washington awaiting history

In the shade of a Japanese maple, beside a plot of purple petunias and pale sweet william, Carol Anderson and Laura Brennaman set up camp outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday to get seats for the big decision.

Anderson, of Williamsburg, brought, among other things, a comforter, a framed picture of the Virgin Mary and a rosary. Brennaman brought a reclining chair, some of her students’ papers to grade, and a tuna lunch pack.

They were part of the anticipation as Washington, teeming with summer visitors, awaited the outcome of one of the most momentous and far-reaching court cases in years.

The two “adversaries” were first and second in line to get seats inside Thursday, when the court’s decision on President Obama’s controversial health-care law is scheduled to be announced. They said they planned to wait for seats all night.

Been here before

Both have been here before: They were in line early when the case was argued back in March.

And though their views are unchanged — Anderson opposes the law; Brennaman, a nurse and teacher from Fort Myers, Fla., supports it — the drama of the decision brought them back for the closing act.

“It’s a moment of history,” Brennaman said.

Tourists and the law’s opponents and supporters trooped to the colonnaded court building on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, pausing to snap pictures, declaim or pray.

Gray-bearded William Temple of Brunswick, Ga., was there, dressed as a Revolutionary War-era Marine, with a tricorn hat, and carrying the yellow flag of the tea party movement. It was a great day for flags, and Temple posed for many photographs.

He said he was there to oppose the “tyranny” of a law that forces people to buy health insurance. He said three of his children have opted to spend their money on things other than health insurance, which he believes is their right.

Matt Lockett and three comrades were there, standing before the massive court building, with its sombre marble statues of the Contemplation of Justice and the Guardian of Law.

Lockett, of the antiabortion group “Bound 4 Life,” and his colleagues prayed as they stood with their mouths covered in red tape. Regulars outside the court, they said they hoped God might have a hand in deliberations within.

And Bruce Marshall, a church organist from Philadelphia, showed up, carrying a tea party T-shirt in his briefcase. “Never want to be caught out of uniform,” he said.

He had taken a bus to Washington and hoped to participate in a demonstration. In the absence of a rally, he said, he might stay over in hopes of catching one Thursday.

Many people said they were well aware of the importance of the decision. They expressed concerns about various aspects of the law, pro and con. And some lamented what they described as the harsh tone of the national discourse.

Carla Bates, 50, of Minneapolis paused outside the court with her partner, Susan Pollock, 54, and children Frances Bates, 16, and Tommy Bates, 13. The group had just arrived in Washington for a visit.

She said their 19-year-old son is benefiting from the law’s provision that is enabling young people to obtain coverage through their parents’ health plans until age 26. “It’s just huge,” she said.

Their son delivers sandwiches via bicycle, and he’s already had one mishap that sent him to a hospital emergency room. “He would be in an immediate crisis” if that aspect of the law is shot down, she said.

Bates said the law appears to have become more popular since it was passed. “I think people are seeing it in their real lives,” she said.

She said she would be surprised if the law’s requirement that people obtain health insurance survives the court’s decision. “But we’ve got to do something” to contain costs and expand coverage, she said. “At least it was a try. We’ve got to try something.”

Another point of view

John McIlwraith, 60, and his wife, Morag, 57, were visiting from Scotland, and they were not sure the building they stood before was the Supreme Court. But they were aware of the American health-care debate.

“Obama’s sort of hanging his hat on health, isn’t he?” John McIlwraith said. “And if it doesn’t go his way, doesn’t look too good for him next time around, does it?”

Health care in Scotland is free, he said. It’s funded by national and Scottish taxes, and there can be waits for some services, he said.

But “glasses, dental care, prescriptions. . . .We are very happy in Scotland not to pay for any health care at all.”

His wife added: “Even when you go to hospitals, we don’t pay for that.”

And their taxes?

“It’s always been built in, since after the war,” John McIlwraith said. “We accept it as part and parcel. You’ve paid your money. You’ve earned your dollars. You earned your pounds. You’ve had your deductions. And that covers health care. From top to bottom.”

The couple said their son has lived in New York for nine years and has been hospitalized a couple of times. “It’s cost a lot of money,” Morag McIlwraith said. “Whereas, it had been back home, he wouldn’t have paid anything.”

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.
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