- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the heart of President Obama’s health care law, ruling that the federal government can compel Americans to buy health insurance and striking a new balance for the scope of federal authority in the 21st century.

The complex 5-4 decision is a major legal boost to Mr. Obama and settles more than two years of court battles, though it only inflamed the political fight over the largest expansion in 40 years of the country’s social safety-net programs.

The ruling lets Mr. Obama continue to push the law toward full implementation in 2014, even as Republicans said they will redouble their efforts to repeal it in Congress and to take the issue to voters in November’s elections.

At its root, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s controlling opinion attempted a delicate constitutional balancing act: He said the Commerce and the Necessary and Proper clauses cannot be bent to compel Americans to buy insurance but is allowed under Congress‘ tax and spending powers, which are broader, but are subject to the checks of the political system.

“The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness,” he wrote.

The court’s four Democrat-appointed justices all sided with the chief justice’s ruling, but wrote separately to say they would have allowed the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause, too.

Four justices dissented, saying in an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia that the court has granted nearly unlimited authority to Congress to control Americans’ lives.

“Whatever may be the conceptual limits upon the Commerce Clause and upon the power to tax and spend, they cannot be such as will enable the Federal Government to regulate all private conduct and to compel the states to function as administrators of federal programs,” Justice Scalia wrote.

They said they would have struck down not only the individual mandate, but the rest of the law as well, arguing that the other provisions could not have stood without the compulsion of forcing Americans to buy insurance.

The justices also upheld the law’s massive expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state partnership program that provides health care to the poor. But in a 7-2 split, the justices said states that don’t want to expand their Medicaid rolls can’t be forced to forfeit all their existing Medicaid money.

Tax fight

The political fight ramped up throughout the day, as Republicans pounced on the court’s pronouncement that the penalty for not purchasing health coverage amounts to a tax, even though Mr. Obama repeatedly denied that while trying to muster political support for the law.

“The Supreme Court has spoken. This law is a tax. The bill was sold to the American people on a deception,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, adding that his party will continue pushing to ax the law.

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, also vowed to sign a repeal if he is elected in November.

House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor, Virginia Republican, said the House will vote to repeal the health care law next month, delivering on GOP promises to try to repeal the rest of the law even if the court upheld it.

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