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Video: Legal showdown over healthcare mandate

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    >>> good even. we begin tonight with a basic question for everybody. can congress force you to buy health insurance ? more than that, can they charge you a penalty if you choose not to? that's at the crux of the health plan that may be known forever as obamacare. this is there question the supreme court now gets to answer. they haven't done this often, but they're allowing lawyers to file before them and argue both sides of this case for three days. then they'll decide. because unlike some of the courts' decisions, this one will ultimately impact on every last one of us. we begin our coverage tonight with our justice correspondent pete williams at the court. pete, good evening.

    >>> and brian, there hasn't been anything like this in the court's modern history . six hours of courtroom argument this week over a single act of congress . it's a big legal showdown for the accomplishment of the obama administration and it's drawing quite a crowd. outside the court, passionate demonstrations, mostly supporting the law.

    >> care for you, care for me. care for every family.

    >> i'm only giving out tickets for today's argument only.

    >> court officials allowed in 120 of the people who were in line. some of them since friday.

    >> 24, 25.

    >> rick santorum even showed up to underscore the political stakes.

    >> it's a very, very important day for america.

    >> today's question, can the challengers bring this case now or do they have to wait until 2014 ? when the centerpiece of the law kicks in, the requirement that all americans get health insurance ?

    >> a 150-year-old law says no tax can be challenged before it goes into effect, and the health care law says anyone who does not get insurance must pay a penalty on their tax returns clikted by the irs. is that a tax? nearly of the justices think it's not since the t word is not in the health care law .

    >> congress has nowhere used the word tax. what it says is penalty. and so why is this a tax?

    >> this is not a revenue-raising measure because if it's successful, nobody will pay the penalty. and there will be no revenue to raise.

    >> we're done.

    >> 26 states and a business group are challenging the massive health care law signed by the president two years go, especially its requirement to buy health insurance . they say while the constitution gives congress the power, quote, to regulate commerce, it has no power to regulate people not involved in a commercial transaction. that means, the challengers claim, that congress can't force hem to buy thing.

    >> congress could do this in all sorts of markets where it would be very convenient to force them.

    >> but it regulate s the entire health care market.

    >> congress has found that no one can say that they'll not need health care . we're at a risk, the fact of our mortality is as a human being .

    >> the court does have the power to decide the issue now. did the congress have the poer to pass the law in the first place?

    >> pete williams starting off the coverage in the court in washington. pete, thanks. and savannah

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