THE RACE: Health care lives on as campaign issue

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By TOM RAUM, Associated Press

The decision is in but the impact is unclear.

The Supreme Court's basic upholding of the constitutionality of the health-care law on Thursday handed President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats a clear political victory.

But at the same time, the 5-4 decision only upholds the law for now. Its ultimate fate will be determined by which party controls the White House and Congress after the November elections.

And that gives Republican challenger Mitt Romney and congressional Republican candidates more ammunition for appealing to like-minded voters, firepower they would have lost had the law been overturned.

"Obamacare was bad policy yesterday, it's bad policy today," Romney said after the ruling, which he called incorrect. With the Capitol behind him, he pledged "to replace President Obama" and work to replace the law.

Obama called the ruling "a victory for people all over the country" and told reporters, "We will continue to implement this law."

Most of the law's mandates, including the requirement that most Americans carry health insurance or pay a penalty, don't take effect until 2014. So it remains a potent campaign issue.

At the same time, health care legislation has never been at the top of the list of voter concerns. The economy is.

And its sluggishness was underscored again on Thursday by two lackluster government reports.

One showed the economy grew at just a 1.9 percent annual rate in the first three months of the year, a weak pace that few economists see improving much before Election Day. The other showed a decline in the number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits last week — but only slightly from the week before.

On Thursday, Obama visited wounded troops at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Romney was heading to New York City for a fundraiser.

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