1:00pm

Thu March 29, 2012
Health Care

Health Care Politics A Hot Topic After Supreme Court

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Well, now that the health care arguments before the Supreme Court are over, both sides are prepping for the political fallout. No matter which way the court rules in June, health care is bound to be front and center in the presidential campaign.

NPR's Mara Liasson joins me to now to discuss that. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hello, Robert.

SIEGEL: And first, how are supporters and opponents of the president's health care law feeling or saying they feel after the arguments?

LIASSON: Well, with the caveat that you can't predict the outcome from the questions the justices asked, I think it is fair to say that Republicans and conservatives are feeling good. They're feeling optimistic and vindicated that the conservative justices on the court so aggressively took up their arguments about the health care law being an example of the federal government overreaching.

I would say the reverse is true for Democrats and supporters of the law. They were really taken aback at the ferocity of the arguments. They were surprised at the hostility that the justices showed. I think they really believed all those legal analysts who had read the law and the justices' previous opinions and confidently predicted that a majority could be found to uphold the law. Their confidence, of course, disappeared that week.

We're also told by a Democrat close to the White House that the president, who is a former constitutional law professor and who was briefed on these arguments, was disappointed but not surprised.

SIEGEL: Let's say that the Supreme Court decides to overturn either the mandate or the entire Affordable Care Act. What would be the political consequences of that?

LIASSON: Well, it's impossible to predict. There are a lot of theories out there. First of all, everyone agrees that at least at first it would be a huge blow to the president. This is his signature achievement. You can hear the ads now: He's a constitutional law professor, and he couldn't even sign a bill that was constitutional. He'll be seen as a failure.

But Democrats say it could energize their base. You're already hearing about conservative judicial activists, about 26 Republican governors along with conservative justices on the court overturning an act of Congress. But it could also demoralize the Democrats who've been trying for so many decades to pass health care only to see it kind of snatched from the jaws of victory.

For Republicans, it could either energize them, make them feel victorious and more confident about defeating the president in the fall. Or it could slake their enthusiasm and deprive them of their main rallying cry, which is the individual mandate, if that goes out the window.

SIEGEL: But the White House has been adamant that there is no contingency plan. Bit they've got to have some kind plan B, don't they?

LIASSON: Yes, and I think they are working on that. They don't want to talk. They don't want to say out loud that they might lose in court. But if the whole law is overturned, a lot of Democrats think that might be easier for them. Then their message is simpler.

You've got the president on one side - who gave 55 million people free preventative care, and two and half million young adults the ability to stay on their parents' plan - versus the court and Republicans, who the White House says are standing with the insurance companies being able to drop your coverage, ban you if you have a preexisting condition, jack up your rates.

They say this is a debate that they are happy to have. And I think they are determined in that case to try to make insurance industry Mitt Romney's middle name.

SIEGEL: So then, what does the White House, with President Obama running for re-election, do between now and we assume the end of June when the court rules?

LIASSON: Well, one thing they're trying to do, and the campaign is trying to do this too, is at long last educate people about what is in the law. People are still very confused about what it is. And they've felt that they had to wait before each benefit came online before they could make a big deal out of it. But now, they are stepping up their effort to remind people about all the things the law offers them: the help for seniors buying prescription drugs, you know, the ability of young people to stay on their parents' plans.

I also think that outside groups are going to be gearing up for a war against the court. They'll be painting this as, if it does come down to a 5-4 decision, that this was conservative judicial activism. And if you thought that health care debate before the law was passed was partisan and polarizing, just wait till you just see the debate after the Supreme Court rules.

SIEGEL: OK. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.

That's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.