WASHINGTON — A judge's ruling that called President Barack Obama's landmark health care overhaul unconstitutional renewed criticism from his potential 2012 rivals, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leading the unified pack on Tuesday.
Romney, who as governor implemented a heath overhaul with similarities to Obama's plan, has been a steadfast critic of Democrats' law and eyes it as a key policy plank as he weighs a campaign for the White House. Recognizing his own vulnerability for implementing a similar plan, Romney turned his ire on Democrats.
"I think it is a very bad piece of legislation," Romney told ABC News. "I think the president should have been more attuned to what we did in our own state."
The Massachusetts universal health care law that Romney signed in 2006 required state residents to get private or government health insurance by 2007. It punished individuals and employers who did not with penalties now exceeding $1,000 per person annually.
The federal law similarly requires coverage, but with penalties that are lower and slower to ramp up.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson on Monday ruled the Obama administration's health care overhaul unconstitutional and questioned whether the government was reaching beyond its power by requiring citizens to buy health insurance because everyone needs medical care. Vinson ruled that lawmakers lack the power to penalize citizens for not doing something and compared the provision to requiring people to eat healthful food.
The Justice Department said it would appeal Vinson's ruling. Twenty-six states attorneys general are fighting the much-maligned measure and two judges have upheld the law, both Democratic appointees. Another judge, a Republican appointee in Virginia, also has ruled against it.
"We are a federalist system," Romney said. "We don't need a federal government imposing one-size-fits-all plan on the entire nation."
Romney's potential rivals, too, were quick to criticize the Democrats' plan, which Obama will have to defend during his expected re-election campaign. Without mentioning Obama by name, the criticism could just as easily be describing the Massachusetts plan.
"We must let Congress finish the job by repealing the flawed legislation and replacing it with reform that allows for affordable coverage for all Americans," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.
"An individual health care mandate is an unconstitutional power grab by the federal government and drags our health care system in the wrong direction," former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said. "This ruling is a big victory for states' rights, the U.S. Constitution and market-based health care reform."
"We all know that this case will ultimately be decided by the United States Supreme Court, but this is an extremely important ruling. For those of us who have been opposed to Obamacare all along, it's nice to see the courts upholding the Constitution," said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota also praised the ruling: "I will continue to work with my colleagues to see that the Senate has a vote on repealing this harmful bill and start working on a replacement immediately."
And Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour used the ruling to ding Washington, which is held in generally low regard.
"As surprised as some people in Washington may be by the court's ruling that the power of the federal government is limited, I am pleased to learn the Constitution still means what the framers intended," Barbour said.
The latest Associated Press-GfK poll found the nation divided on the law, which expands coverage to more than 30 million uninsured requires for the first time that most people in the United States carry health insurance. That mandate started out as a Republican idea during an earlier health care debate in the 1990s. Nowadays, most conservatives are against it.