Will Health Care Matter Come November? (The Note)

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By AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter ) and MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )

Health care is the talk of the town in Washington and on the campaign trail this week, but it's unclear how profoundly the discussion will actually affect the presidential race.

In fact, whichever way the U.S. Supreme Court decides, the issue of health care reform may not be such a big deal in campaign 2012 after all. The Court tackles the individual mandate during oral arguments today, and the Republican candidates are using this week's hearings to attack President Obama and each other.

Rick Santorum took to the Supreme Court steps yesterday and did not pass up a chance to hit his opponent, Mitt Romney, on the health plan he implemented as governor of Massachusetts.

"There is one candidate who is uniquely disqualified to make the case. The reason I'm here and he's not," Santorum said of Romney as he spoke to reporters outside the Court.  " The reason that I talk about Obamacare and its impact on the economy and on fundamental  freedoms and Mitt Romney doesn't because he can't because he supported government run health care as governor of Massachusetts."

More than two thousand miles away, at a medical device company in California, Romney steered clear of his GOP rival, but used health care as an example of the Obama administration's overreach. Romney spoke at a podium emblazoned with his campaign logo and the words: "Repeal and Replace."

But, the fact is, most Americans have already formed an opinion of the Obama health care law,  and a Supreme Court ruling isn't going to change that.

One Democratic strategist who was closely involved in the 2010 midterm elections - an election in which  a vote for the health care legislation cost many Democrats their seats - told ABC News that the health care issue has "been played out and litigated out."

Since August 2009, ABC/Washington Post polling has asked Americans whether they support or oppose  changes to the health care system that have been enacted by Congress and the Obama administration.  At no point has the "support" hit 50 percent. Yet, opposition has also hovered in the same narrow range - somewhere between 48 percent to 52 percent.

So after three years of posturing and politicking and pontificating, Americans views on this law have stayed relatively consistent.

If the Supremes decide that the individual mandate is constitutionally sound, it won't convince skeptics of the program to embrace it. On the other hand, if it's found unconstitutional, it won't make those who are already opposed to the law dislike it more. Or make those who say they support it like it more - it could even "energize" the base, one GOP strategist suggested.

Candidates also risk looking out of touch if they spend too much time campaigning on the individual mandate instead of campaigning on jobs and the economy. For many Americans, the real frustration about the health care law is that the debate over it consumed far too much time and energy in Washington, time and energy that they believe should have been spent trying to fix the economy.

EXCLUSIVE: FED CHAIRMAN BEN BERNANKE SPEAKS TO ABC's DIANE SAWYER. Sawyer goes one-on-one with the man in charge of one of the most important global financial institutions - the chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke. Bernanke has been at the helm of the central bank of the United States since 2006. This month Mr. Bernanke began delivering a four-part lecture series about the Federal Reserve and the financial crisis that emerged in 2008 at the George Washington University School of Business. The exclusive sit-down interview will take place and air tonight on "World News with Diane Sawyer." Portions of the interview will also be featured across ABC News broadcasts and platforms. Tune in.


VIDEO OF THE DAY: SPINNERS AND WINNERS. Olympia Snowe Gives Obama an 'F' ABC's Jonathan Karl with the retiring Maine Republican. WATCH: http://yhoo.it/GToyjO



EXCLUSIVE: THE STORY BEHIND DICK CHENEY'S HEART TRANSPLANT. ABC's Jonathan Karl reports that Dick Cheney was sound asleep when the phone rang after midnight on Friday. It was a call from the cardiology department at Inova Fairfax Hospital; he was told to come to the hospital quickly - a donor heart was likely to become available within hours. "His response was to say, 'Sure. What time?  Let's go,'" said Dr. Jon Reiner, Cheney's cardiologist who accompanied Cheney for the surgery, which was performed by Fairfax cardiologists Alan Speir and Anthony Rongione. About an hour later, Cheney was at the hospital preparing for heart transplant surgery.  The surgery, which started at 10am Saturday was over by 5pm, about 17 hours after Cheney received his wake-up call from the hospital. "The surgery went flawlessly," Dr. Reiner told ABC News. "It exceeded expectations." Cheney is still in intensive care, but Dr. Reiner said his recovering has been "dramatic" and that Cheney is doing "remarkably well, amazingly well" and was already out of his hospital bed and sitting in a chair Monday morning. "The organ has functioned terrifically.  There can still be challenges, but so far, so good," Dr. Reiner said.  "So far so very good." http://abcn.ws/GR4FwH

ROMNEY CALLS RUSSIA, AMERICA'S #1 GEO-POLITICAL FOE.  Mitt Romney said yesterday that Russia - not Iran or North Korea - is the United States' "number one geopolitical foe," adding that Russia "always stands up for the world's worst actors," notes ABC's Emily Friedman. Romney's remarks came during an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, during which he spoke about the comments made by President Obama early today that were caught by an open microphone. During a conversation about missile defense, Obama told Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that he'd have more "flexibility" after the election. Romney said he was "very concerned" about the president's remarks, especially because they were made to a Russian leader. "Russia is not a friendly character on the world stage and for this president to be looking for greater flexibility where he doesn't have to answer to the American people in his relations with Russia is very, very troubling, very alarming," he said. "I am very, very concerned. "This is to Russia," Romney said. "This is without question our number one geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world's worst actors. The idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed," he said. http://abcn.ws/GSefgp


-The Democratic National Committee released a statement this morning from Gen. Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander-Europe and former presidential candidate, about Romney's comments:  "Surely one lesson of the 21st Century is that America's security in the world depends on making more friends and fewer enemies.  Governor Romney's statement sounds like a rehash of Cold War fears. Given the many challenges we face at home and abroad, the American people deserve a full and complete explanation from Governor Romney.  Good policy does not come from bumper sticker slogans.  The next president is going to have to take America forward, out of war, and into other challenges.  The rekindling of old antagonisms hardly seems the way to do it."

-And ABC's Jake Tapper reports from South Korea that White House press secretary Jay Carney also took issue with Romney's assessment of Russia. Carney, a former Moscow-based correspondent for TIME magazine, stated that "in a world where Al Qaeda is so clearly the preeminent threat to the United States, and similar organizations, it seems a little inaccurate to make that statement about Russia where Russia is a county that we have been able to cooperate with on very important issues even as we disagree with them on others and that includes missile defense and Syria." http://abcn.ws/GT1odf

OBAMA RESPONDS TO OPEN-MIC INCIDENT. President Obama offered his explanation today for the hot-mic moment that caught him asking the Russian president for "flexibility" and "space" on missile defense until after November's election, ABC's Mary Bruce reports. "This is not a matter of hiding the ball," Obama said. "The only way I get this stuff done is if I'm consulting with the Pentagon, with Congress, if I've got bipartisan support and frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations," Obama told reporters following a meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan. "I think the stories you guys have been writing over the last 24 hours is pretty good evidence of that." Reporters at the Nuclear Security Summit overheard Obama asking Medvedev Monday to tell incoming President Vladimir Putin "on all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it's important for him to give me space." "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," he added. http://abcn.ws/GT48b8

SANTORUM DEFENDS EXPLETIVE-LACED OUTBURST AT REPORTER. Rick Santorum asked about the heated confrontation he had with New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny over Mitt Romney's fitness for the Republican nomination,  said yesterday he had no regrets about how it was handled, ABC"s Arlette Saenz notes. "This is the third time I was asked that question in a matter of four minutes," Santorum said in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "There was a whole gaggle or reporters, literally five feet away, and he - and he was standing there. I'm sure - I mean, I don't know he was standing. I assume he was standing there. Everyone was sort of standing in a group. There was a large group there. I was asked that question. I was asked it again. And then he comes over and he says, 'So Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country.' That's what he said. Listen to his words. And I think, what speech did you listen to? I mean, I was talking about Obamacare, Romneycare and the fact that, as I said, that Gov. Romney is uniquely disqualified to make the case. Why? Because he wrote the blueprint for Obamacare. And to then say, you know, spin this as Rick Santorum said he's the worst Republican in the country." Santorum continued to insist that reporters were distorting his words and ignoring his argument that Romney, having championed a health care law when he was governor of Massachusetts, was not in a position to debate Obama on the federal health care law. http://abcn.ws/H6SHxI

NOTED:  During an interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Santorum said he would be open to be Romney's Vice President if it was for the good of the party.

ABC's John Berman took a closer look at Santorum's angry exchange on "Good Morning America" today. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/GWW1LV

RON PAUL: 'THE RACE ISN'T OVER' Not an interview goes by where Ron Paul isn't asked about the viability of his campaign, ABC's Jason Volack reports. And although the Texas congressman usually brushes off the questions by reiterating that he's in it for the long run, Paul got testy when asked why he doesn't just do the "decent thing and pull out" on "Piers Morgan Tonight." "Why don't you do the decent thing and not pester me with silly questions like that," a fiery Paul replied to host Morgan. "I mean that would be decent of you." Morgan pointing out that a recent Gallup poll has Paul at 9 percent nationally, and that the congressman has so far collected 71 delegates compared with 569 for Mitt Romney. "It's way too soon for you to write anybody off," said Paul, pointing out that states such as Maine, Washington, and North Dakota are still working through the process of awarding delegates. "Through the process, our people are in the right places. They're doing the things to become a delegate," he said. Not losing a beat, Paul mused about Romney's position as the Republican frontrunner. "What if Mitt Romney isn't the best person," Paul asked, adding "why should we just throw in the towel because people like you say 'hey, throw in the towel.'" http://abcn.ws/GT0Dzb



@DavidMDrucker : @MittRomney answers Plouffe:"If I'm the godfather of this thing, then it gives me the right to kill it." h/t  @hughhewitt

@GOP12 : Palin on Santorum's cursing episode: "I was like 'Welcome to my world, Rick, and good on ya'."

@kakukowski : From  @RNCResearch#ObamaCare: Keep Your Plan. Another Broken Promise As ObamaCare Continues To Flat-Line http://bit.ly/H7LfV5

@thecaucus : Will Santorum's Flashes of Anger Help or Hurt Him? http://nyti.ms/H9zFqs

@russellberman : Cast blame or take credit? Some in House GOP want to take credit for recent economic gains  http://bit.ly/GTNSqx  #tcot  #gop



by ABC's Chris Good

-Romney Wins D.C. Straw Poll. Mitt Romney is expected to collect all 19 delegates at stake in Washington, D.C.'s winner-take-all April 3 primary, and a straw poll reinforced his advantage on Monday night. At an annual fundraising dinner, Romney won 72 percent of the vote in a D.C. GOP straw poll. About 200 ballots were cast, the Associated Press reports. http://wapo.st/HdJSA0 -More Ballot-Size Issues (This Time in Wisconsin). On primary Election Day in Illinois, 26 counties printed ballots that were too big for the scanner machines that were to count them. The same has happened in Wisconsin, where Milwaukee County ballots were printed too large for scanners and in an incompatible format, an election official tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Although ballots have been reprinted for the April 3 primary, election officials will have to hand-count all absentee ballots in Milwaukee COunty, potentially leading to delays in reporting final results. http://bit.ly/H7In8w

-Callista Gingrich Campaigns in Her Home State. Callista Gingrich, a native of Whitehall, Wis., is in her home state, stumping for her husband and catching up with friends, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reports. After a meet-and-greet at a bar & grill in Eau Claire Monday night, Gingrich will campaign in Wausau, Stevens Point, and Plover before reading from her book "Sweet Land of Liberty" at an elementary school in Whitehall on Wednesday, as she did in Hudson on Monday. A scheduled reading at Rock Elementary School was canceled Monday "due to district practice that does not support political activity during the school day with students," according to the local schools superintendent, and Gingrich read at a private Lutheran school instead. http://bit.ly/HatzDA

-Wisconsin Faith and Freedom Coalition Gets the Candidates Back Together. These days it's rare for three presidential candidates to take the same stage, even at different times, with no debates in the last month and with Mitt Romney turning his message toward the general election. But on Saturday, Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum are all scheduled to speak at an event hosted by the Wisconsin social-conservative group in Waukesha, the Fox Point-Bayside edition of Patch reports. http://bit.ly/H7XMqB

-Biden to Raise Money in Wisconsin. White Republican candidates campaign in Wisconsin, Vice President JOe Biden will loosely bird-dog them by holding a fundraiser in Milwaukee on Thursday for the Obama Victory Fund, a joint-fundraising committee for President Obama's campaign and the Democratic Party, the Green Bay Press Gazette reports. http://gbpg.net/H91rPM



-Mitt Romney spends the day fundraising in California before an evening appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

-Rick Santorum is on the trail in Wisconsin with two rallies in Beaver Dam and Janesville. Wisconsin votes April 3rd.

-Newt Gingrich will hold a media availability on the steps of the Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis. Gingrich will also visit Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md. in the afternoon.

-ABC's Josh Haskell (@HaskellBuzz)  

 Check out The Note's Futures Calendar:  http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV


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