WASHINGTON – Republican congressional leaders said Sunday that voters – not the Supreme Court – will have the final word on President Barack Obama’s health-care law come November. And they are betting that the law’s unpopularity will be enough to drive Democrats from power.
The White House’s response? Bring it on.
“We’ve got one last chance here to beat Obamacare, and we can do that in the November election,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling the law the “single worst piece of legislation” passed in modern times.
White House chief of staff Jack Lew countered that he believes most Americans want to put the health-care debate to rest.
“I actually think the American people want us to focus on the economy, on creating jobs and moving forward,” Lew said.
Republicans and Democrats have been wrangling for the upper hand in the health-care debate since last week’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the law’s mandate that individuals buy health insurance or face a penalty. Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, provided the pivotal vote in that decision by ruling that the penalty was legal under the government’s taxing authority.
While technically handing a political victory to Obama, Roberts’ ruling invigorated Republicans eager to cast the law as a new tax on the middle class.
“The American people do not want to go down this path,” said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. “They do not want the government telling them what kind of insurance policy they have to buy, and how much they have to pay for it, and if you don’t like it, we’re going to tax you.”
Democrats refute the characterization of the law. Lew said the mandate would impact only 1 percent of Americans – those who can afford health insurance but refuse to buy it.
“This is a penalty on free riders,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Yet public opposition to the health-care law remains high. Forty-seven percent of respondents in a recent Associated Press-GfK poll said they oppose the law while 33 percent said they support it.
However, much of the polling does find strong support for individual elements, such as allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ plan to age 26. Some Democrats see that as an opening to reframe the debate.