Obama Confident About Health Care Law Having Its Day in (Supreme) Court

(AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama was about to speak at a Philadelphia pre-school last Tuesday when he got some good news about his unpopular health care law.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in a 2-1 decision that the law is constitutional.

But perhaps as important as the ruling, to the president, was the author of the decision: Justice Laurence Silberman, one of the most respected and influential conservative jurists in the land. An appointee of President Ronald Reagan, Silberman wrote:

“It suffices for this case to recognize, as noted earlier, that the health insurance market is a rather unique one, both because virtually everyone will enter or affect it, and because the uninsured inflict a disproportionate harm on the rest of the market as a result of their later consumption of health care services.”

Silberman conceded the point of those conservatives challenging the law that requiring the uninsured to purchase health insurance encroaches on freedom, but “no more so than a command that restaurants or hotels are obliged to serve all customers regardless of race.”

White House officials say the president and his legal team are confident in the strength of their case in defending the law, which the Supreme Court today agreed to hear in March. Officials say the White House is beginning to prepare for every contingency — including if the law is stricken down — but they do not expect that will happen.

“If the law is held up in June,” when the court is expected to rule, a senior White House official said, “that will be a big boost for us.”

The reverse spin from Democrats is that if the law is stricken down, that would help rally Democrats for November, giving them something to fight for. But no one at the White House wants that to happen.

At a town hall meeting on Aug. 15 in Cannon Falls, Minn., the president made his case, saying “the individual responsibility mandate comes in has to do with the part of the law that says an insurance company can’t reject you because you’ve got a preexisting condition. … Here’s the problem: If an insurance company has to take you, has to insure you, even if you’re sick, but you don’t have an individual mandate, then what would everybody do? They would wait until they get sick and then you’d buy health insurance, right?

“It’s just like your car insurance,” he continued. “If you could buy — if the car insurance companies had to give you insurance, you’d just wait until you had an accident and then you’d be dialing on the phone from the wreck, and you’d say, ‘State Farm, I’d like to buy some car insurance please.’ So that’s why the individual mandate is important. Because the basic theory is, look, everybody here at some point or another is going to need medical care, and you can’t be a free-rider on everybody else — you can’t not have health insurance, then go to the emergency room and each of us who’ve done the responsible thing and have health insurance, suddenly we now have to pay the premiums for you. That’s not fair.”

The president pointed out that the individual mandate used to be a Republican idea, and said that “if the Supreme Court follows existing precedent, existing law, it should be upheld without a problem. If the Supreme Court does not follow existing law and precedent, then we’ll have to manage that when it happens.”

– Jake Tapper