The Supreme Court ruling to uphold President Obama's signature healthcare law serves as a boost to the Democrat's re-election bid, but will also galvanize conservative support for Republican rival Mitt Romney, who has vowed to repeal the measure upon his election.
"Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of the law and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it," Obama said in a televised statement soon after the ruling was made. "The highest court in the land has now spoken. We will continue to implement this law and we will work together to improve on it where we can. But what we won't do, what the country can't afford to do, is re-fight the political battles of two years ago or go back to the way things were."
Romney, speaking before reporters in Washington, D.C., also shortly after the ruling, said the court merely said the law doesn't violate the Constitution.
"What they did not do is say that Obamacare is a good law or that it's good policy," he said. "Obamacare was bad policy yesterday, it's bad policy today. Obamacare was bad law yesterday, it's bad law today."
He lacerated the law, claiming it adds to the deficit, is a job-killer, puts government between Americans and their doctors, and raises taxes.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has been a polarizing touchstone for Americans since Democrats began crafting the legislation in 2009. The final sweeping reform calls on nearly all citizens to purchase health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a fine, something conservatives have said is out of the scope of power for the federal government. But the conservative high court disagreed in a 5-4 decision led by Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush.
Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts signed into law a similar measure that also required people to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty, has so far been able to capitalize on the ruling through fundraising, reportedly raising more than $1 million in donations just hours after the announcement. And by coming out strongly against the court decision, he firmly draws a distinction between himself and Obama, at least rhetorically.
"This is a time of choice for the American people," Romney said. "Our mission is clear--if we want to get rid of Obamacare, we're going to have to replace President Obama.
But Andrew Smith, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, says neither side scored a clean victory.
"For the Romney campaign, I think it's good news in that it will really motivate the conservative base of the Republican Party, which might have wavered," he says. "But how do you explain to Republicans who don't like the healthcare bill your own involvement in something similar in a state?"
Romney has said while it's appropriate for a state to issue such a mandate, it's not OK for the federal government to.
"He's made the federalist argument--whether it's plausible or helpful is a different matter," Smith says. "It allows the Obama campaign to turn the tables on Romney more easily."
Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, said nonetheless Romney will benefit from the ruling.
"If conservatives are to realize their hopes of repealing the Affordable Care Act, the electoral process is their only remaining recourse," he said in a statement. "Once the dust settles, expect them to mobilize and work even harder for unified government under Republican control. And expect Mitt Romney to wave the bloody shirt all the more vigorously"
As for the president, Smith says it's very consequential that Obama's signature law was not overturned.
"When you're running for president as the incumbent, it's really a judgment on your performance in office," Smith says. "And the economic issues haven't been really good--this can be the one thing he can point to as a significant accomplishment."
Obama tried to downplay the politics of the decision in his statement following the ruling and pledged to work with those who don't like parts of the law.
"I respect the concerns that millions of Americans have shared," he said. "I know a lot of coverage throughout this healthcare debate has focused on what it means politically. Well, it should be pretty clear by now that I didn't do this because it was good politics. I did it because I believed it was good for the country. I did it because I believed it was good for the American people."
Ultimately, Smith says more time will need to pass before it becomes clear how the decision impacts the White House race.
"What we're going to have to see is how both campaigns take advantage of it, make arguments that are both logically plausible and more importantly are easy to sell to their supporters," he says.
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.
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