WASHINGTON — Turned away at the Supreme Court, congressional Republicans sketched a strategy Friday to repeal the nation’s health care law in 2013 that requires a sweeping election victory carrying Mitt Romney to the presidency and the party at least to narrow control of the Senate.
Romney sought to turn the court’s decision upholding the two-year-old law into a campaign battle cry, saying the 5-4 ruling had injected “greater urgency” into his challenge to President Barack Obama. “I think many people assumed that the Supreme Court would do the work that was necessary in repealing Obamacare,” he said, adding that the justices “did not get that job done.”
Several Republicans seized on a portion of Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion that said the centerpiece of the law, a requirement to purchase insurance, was constitutional because it is based on Congress’ power to impose a tax. “Those who will end up paying the heaviest burden for not buying government-mandated insurance won’t be the wealthiest Americans, but the very middle class families the president claims to defend,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
The White House said that was an argument it was happy to have. Presidential press secretary Jay Carney said Obama has signed legislation cutting middle class taxes repeatedly, that Republicans want to extend existing income tax cuts for the wealthy and then add “another $5 trillion…that would disproportionately benefit” the same group.
Polls find Obama and Romney in a close race four months before the election, with the economy the nation’s overriding issue. The battle for control of the Senate is also uncertain, and one day after the court’s ruling, the principal fallout was political.
Romney, Obama and congressional candidates in both parties raised campaign money from the ruling, in which Roberts unexpectedly joined four more liberal justices to uphold the law’s core component — a requirement that nearly all Americans purchase health insurance beginning in 2014.
The Republican-controlled House is planning to vote in a little more than a week to repeal the law. But that is a symbolic vote, designed to show faith with opponents of what the GOP scornfully calls “Obamacare.” Party officials also hope to force some Democrats into a difficult vote on legislation that has never been popular with the public. The repeal measure is doomed in the Senate, where Democrats hold a majority.
Recognizing as much, Republicans were turning their attention to 2013 as their next realistic opportunity to erase legislation that they say gives government control of health at the same time it raises taxes, cuts Medicare and swells deficits.
“One thing is clear: we need the majority in the Senate,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky wrote in a fundraising email to supporters. “Every path to repeal depends on it.”
A 60-vote majority is normally required to overcome adamant opposition to legislation in the Senate, but under limited circumstances, a mere majority can suffice. Democrats took advantage of that when they pushed the health care law to passage in 2010 when they controlled 59 seats. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., told reporters, “I think with a … majority in the Senate, Republicans could do the same things.”
The GOP currently has 47 seats in the 100-member Senate, and needs to gain three for effective control if Romney wins the presidential election. Any repeal scenario also assumes the Republicans maintain their House majority in the fall.