In 5-4 decision, Supreme Court rules Obamacare constitutional

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The individual mandate in President Barack Obama’s health care reform law has been upheld, as a tax, in a 5-4 decision by the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four-vote bloc of progressive judges to uphold the sweeping law, after reinterpreting it as a tax-related law.

The majority opinion, authored by Roberts, said the federal government does not have the constitutional power to compel “individuals to become active in commerce… [so] the individual mandate cannot be sustained.”

But in a stunning move, Roberts reinterpreted the law, allowing it to stand, because he said the federal government has the constitutional authority to tax people — even though the law’s advocates originally denied it was a tax while pushing for its approval in 2010. The Obama administration later argued that it was a tax.

He and the four progressive judges upheld the far-reaching law as a tax law.

Roberts then said the court is not deciding whether the law is fair or wise.

“It is not our role to forbid it or comment on [the law’s] fairness,” said Robert’s decision, which was opposed by four GOP-nominated judges, including Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely considered the court’s swing vote.

Robert’s decision formally denied the claim by Democrats and progressives that the federal government has the authority to make people buy services. That’s an ideological victory for conservatives.

Yet the minority bloc of four conservative judges slammed the decision as a gross expansion of federal power, because it clears the way for further expansions of government power in the economy.

Robert’s decision to side with progressives is a disappointment for conservatives. He was nominated by President George W. Bush, and was expected to be a reliable advocate for small government.

The court also approved — but also curbed — the law’s extensive Medicaid mandate, which places fiscal pressure on states.

The decision will likely aid President Barack Obama’s defense of the unpopular law. He is expected to speak in the hours following the court’s ruling.

“It is a boost for the President, but it doesn’t make the controversy go away,” said Karl Rove, a GOP political strategist.

“The House will move to repeal what’s left of it,” said Rep. John Boehner, the Speaker of the House.

By boosting health-care costs, Obamacare reduces job-growth, he said June 27. “Our focus has been the economy and it will continue to be the economy.”

“It is still unaffordable, it is still unworkable, it is still unpopular,” said Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso. It needs to be replaced by many smaller measures that reduce the cost of health care, for example, that allows people to buy health insurance from companies outside their state, he said June 28, shortly before the court decision was announced.

“Replace it in a step-by step way,” he said.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has promised to replace the unpopular law, which is likely to boost government spending, boost health-care costs and restrict Americans’ choices.

“If it is deemed to stand … we’ll have to have a president, and I’m that one, that’s gonna get rid of Obamacare,” Romney promised June 26 at a campaign stop in Salem, Va.

Congressional Republicans will likely use the court’s decision to promote a series of laws that reduce government control of the health sector.

Those debates will be delayed until after the presidential election, and will involve a huge number of lobbyists for many health-sector companies that fear a free market. Many companies’ managers prefer to operate under government regulations that shield them from competitors and help them to lobby for extra revenues.

Obama’s allies have already produced reports arguing that the law will aid Obama-leaning blocs, including Latinos, African-Americans and unmarried women.

The court’s decision, announced by the nine-member court on June 28, follows a series of lawsuits by GOP politicians, libertarians and social conservatives.

Obama’s legal advisers pushed the court to make an early decision prior to the November election, and the gamble paid off.

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