POLITICS -- February 1, 2011 at 8:23 AM ET
Judge's Health Care Ruling Sparks Political, Legal Debate
A man protests the health care reform law at a rally in Washington, D.C., last year. Photo by Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images.
In the most sweeping denouncement of the law to date, a federal judge in Florida ruled Monday that the entire health care overhaul enacted last year is unconstitutional.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson bolstered Republicans who want to see the law repealed and led Democrats to launch a forceful defense of President Obama's signature domestic policy achievement.
Vinson held that Congress overstepped its authority by requiring people to purchase insurance or pay a fine. But unlike the ruling in December by a Virginia judge, Vinson went further, determining that the individual mandate could not be separated from the rest of the statute.
In his 78-page opinion, Vinson likened the overhaul to a finely crafted watch with "450 separate pieces," referring to the individual mandate as "one essential piece." He therefore concluded that the mandate and the remaining provisions "are all inextricably bound together in purpose and must stand or fall as a single unit."
On the White House blog, deputy senior adviser Stephanie Cutter wrote that Vinson's ruling was "well out of the mainstream of judicial opinion." Senior administration officials, meanwhile, said implementation of the health care law would continue to move forward.
The Justice Department announced it will appeal Vinson's ruling, which was in favor of all 26 states that had sued.
The decision also rippled across Capitol Hill, where Republicans looked to use the ruling to assist their efforts to repeal the health care law. The House passed a repeal bill last month, but the measure faces tough prospects in the Senate, where Democrats still hold the majority.
Still, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued that Monday's ruling sent a clear message. "Rather than penalizing Americans if they don't buy a particular product that Washington decides is best, we should repeal this health spending bill and replace it with commonsense reforms that will actually lower costs, prevent unsustainable entitlement promises and make it easier for employers to start hiring again," Sen. McConnell said in a statement.
In a release of his own, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Republican plans to repeal and replace the existing law would have a negative impact on many Americans. "This lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt by those who want to raise taxes on small businesses, increase prescription prices for seniors and allow insurance companies to once again deny sick children medical care," Sen. Reid said.
Even if the repeal effort were somehow successful in the Senate, it would almost certainly be met with a veto by President Obama, which would require a two-thirds super-majority of both chambers of Congress to override.
The legal battle, meanwhile, seems destined to be decided by the Supreme Court.
ROMNEY'S SOFT LAUNCH
Mitt Romney, the once and future presidential candidate, is moving into a more public phase on his way to the starting gate for the race to the 2012 Republican nomination. He may not have formed a campaign committee or made a formal announcement yet, but the former governor of Massachusetts is clearly running for president.
One day after announcing his PAC fundraising totals for 2010 with a best-in-show $6.3 million haul and a hefty $1,446,680.28 cash-on-hand total at the start of 2011, a tie-less Romney took to the television airwaves this morning to talk about Egypt, health care and his plans for 2012.
Romney criticized the initial response of the Obama administration to the unrest in Egypt, but seems to think the president is now striking the right balance in its approach.
"I think they got off to a rocky start. I think some of the statements early on were misguided. But I think they've corrected and they've said they want to see transition. And I think that's right," Romney told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America."
He also said that the "United States has to make it very clear to the people of Egypt that we stand with the voices of democracy and freedom." When asked if he would advise President Obama to call for the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Romney demurred. He said that "flies in the face" of the historic and important relationship that has existed between Mubarak, the United States and its allies.
The court ruling from the federal judge in Florida about the health care reform law served to highlight one of Romney's greatest challenges heading into his second quest for the Republican presidential nomination.
A requirement that everyone obtain health insurance is also the centerpiece of the Massachusetts health care plan, which Romney signed into law as governor and is anathema to many conservatives who make up the activist voting base of the GOP primary electorate.
"I think it is a very bad piece of legislation," Romney said, agreeing with Vinson's legal reasoning. "I think the president should have been more attuned to what we did in our own state, which is that we allowed each state to create a solution to the issue of the uninsured the way the state's thought best. That's the way the Constitution intended it. We are a federalist system. We don't need the federal government imposing a one size fits all plan on the entire nation," he added.
The federalist argument has been the one Romney has been making ever since the "Obamacare vs. Romneycare" comparisons began. By relying on an answer steeped in the 10th Amendment to what will be the most persistent question asked of him in the campaign, Romney is hoping for some sympathy from Tea Party supporters who often argue the federal government's reach into the states has gone too far and subverts the founders' intent.
"States have rights that the federal government doesn't have. Under the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, the powers of the federal government are specifically limited. The states have the rights to, for instance, mandate kids go to school, mandate auto insurance. States have certain rights that they can exercise. We can try different things in different states," he said.
Whether or not Romney's answer is sufficient to navigate through a GOP nomination battle remains to be seen. However, he continues to leave himself room to distance himself from the Massachusetts law if he determines that's necessary. On GMA, Romney refused to say the inclusion of the individual mandate was a mistake.
"Our plan isn't working perfectly. There are a number of things I'd do differently the second time around," he said without specifying.
He repeated his current mantra that the country needs a president with private sector experience. When asked about lessons learned from his last presidential run, Romney was quick to concede his next run won't be without mistakes.
"I'm sure I'll avoid some of the mistakes I made last time. But I'll make new ones this time," he said with a chuckle.
"First and foremost is to make sure your message gets through, that you don't get diverted by all the daily events that occur and speak on every possible topic," he added.
Following his GMA appearance, Romney is expected to spend much of the day on television. He plans to sit down with the ladies of "The View" on ABC, Piers Morgan on CNN and have some "Top Ten" fun on CBS' "The Late Show with David Letterman."
BIG SKY BATTLE
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, appears to have landed a big recruit in Big Sky country.
Roll Call's Kyle Trygstad first reported the news Monday night. "Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) will announce Saturday he is challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)."
'It's happening Saturday,' said a knowledgeable Montana GOP political operative. 'He's running. There is a lot of support and enthusiasm back home, and Denny knows he can win.'
"Rehberg's status as a well-known at-large Congressman immediately pushes the matchup between the two Big Sky State politicians to among the most competitive Senate races in the country."
Roll Call also reports that Steve Daines, a Republican businessman who had previously announced his Senate bid, will likely switch races and seek the at-large House seat that Rep. Rehberg will vacate.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., was one of several Democrats elected from Republican leaning states in the wave of 2006 and who now sit atop to the GOP's target list for 2012.
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