It’s been widely accepted by commentators that the Supreme Court decision may give Republicans a weapon against Dems in the campaign. But can Dems put Republicans on defense by stressing the specific provisions within Obamacare that Republicans would take away from people by repealing the law in full?

North Dakota Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp recently earned national attention when she released an ad defending Obamacare and calling out her GOP opponent for supporting repeal. Heitkamp hit GOP Rep. Rick Berg for voting to take away specific provisions such as the ban on discrimination against people with preexisting conditions.

Berg’s response to the SCOTUS decision yesterday was very interesting: He’s claiming he supports individual provisions in the law. A North Dakota reporter asked the Berg campaign about the ruling:

Berg’s congressional spokesman Chris Pack said Berg would favor “fiscally-sustainable bipartisan health care reform that occurs in an open process to protect our most vulnerable residents.”

“We need bipartisan health care reform that contains a frontier states provision, closes the donut hole, and doesn’t deny coverage for pre-existing conditions,” Pack said.

Berg voted to repeal Obamacare and has been a consistent supporter of junking the law. But that would do away with the very provisions he says we need: closing the Medicare “donut hole” and banning discrimination against those with preexisting conditions.

The point here is that we’re now seeing a discussion of the law’s specifics. And when that happens, it’s harder for Republicans to support repealing them.

Republicans won the battle to define the overall law in the public mind. It remains unpopular. But the SCOTUS decision means we’re entering into a new phase of this debate. Opponents of the law can no longer convincingly characterize it as an abuse of power that should be repealed mainly on that basis alone. The claim that the law trampled the constitution was all about casting the overall law as indefensible from a process standpoint — all about taking the debate out of the realm of specifics. That argument is no longer tenable.

Now the debate will be about ... the health care reforms Dems are championing. As Jonathan Cohn put it: “all that’s left is the actual health care plan — and what it would do for people.” Now the argument will be about what repealing it would actually mean to people, and what they’d lose, and what Republicans would do instead, if anything. It will be a challenging argument, particularly since major provisions don’t kick in until 2014 and people don’t have a direct stake in them yet. But it’s one Dems shouldn’t shrink from engaging.


UPDATE: The DSCC responds:

“Rick Berg has voted dozens of times to allow insurance companies to discriminate against North Dakotans with pre-existing conditions, young people, pregnant women and cancer patients. Rick Berg even voted to force seniors to pay hundreds more for prescription drug coverage and even voted for a partisan budget that would end the Medicare guarantee for North Dakota seniors. Now, Rick Berg is trying to make North Dakotans forget that he wants to allow insurance companies to discriminate against North Dakotans and cover up his long record. ”