Obama Defends Health Law Ahead of Supreme Court Decision

by Perry Bacon Jr. and Kristin Donnelly /  / Updated 

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With the Supreme Court set to issue a ruling within days that could gut the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama is aggressively trying to shape the political messaging surrounding the issue, suggesting the court should not have taken up the matter and preparing to blame Republicans in Congress if they don’t immediately fix the law in the president’s preferred way.

He is also casting the Affordable Care Act in moral terms.

“The rugged individualism that defines America has always been bound by a set of shared values; an enduring sense that we are in this together,” the president said in a speech in Washington to the Catholic Health Association on Tuesday . “That America is not a place where we simply turn away from the sick. Or turn our backs on the tired. The poor, the huddle masses. It’s a place sustained by the idea that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper.”

More than five years after Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, the White House is still pressing its case to the American people that the law is working, even as a Supreme Court battle looms that could leave millions without health insurance.

The White House also released new statistics highlighting how well the law is working and a new interactive webpage "Health Care in America".

Among the administration's highlights:

A new Gallup poll estimating the uninsured rate in the first quarter of 2015 was 11.9%, down from 17.1% in 2013.

Creates a tax credit to help 8.7 million Americans who otherwise cannot afford it purchase health coverage through health insurance marketplaces.

The expansion of Medicaid for all non-eligible adults with incomes under 133% of the federal poverty level.

4.3 million more people would have coverage if all states expanded Medicaid.

The new webpage also includes a letter addressed to the president from the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Kennedy asked the letter be delivered after his death, and thanks the president "one last time" for carrying the ball forward.

Kennedy was a lifelong champion for health reform.

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This renewed push from the administration to tout the laws' benefits comes at a critical time.

Six million Americans could lose their benefits if the Supreme Court sides against the administration in a case to be decided this month. King v. Burwell could strike down the subsidies for people living in the 34 states that did not create their own health exchanges.

Entering office in 2009 with big Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, Obama chose to make large-scale health care legislation one of his top two priorities along with the economic stimulus, sidelining proposals for major bills on climate change and immigration.

The long, deeply-divisive process to pass the ACA not only left Obama with little time or ability to push other major bills, but heightened the public’s anger with Washington and helped lead to Republicans winning control of Congress in 2010.

Obama’s choice seemed vindicated.

In March, the U.S government estimated more than 16 million Americans had gained health insurance since the passage of the ACA. A higher percentage of Americans have health insurance than at any time since the 1980’s.

And Obamacare, which conservatives dubbed the law to mock the president, has become a moniker Obama himself embraces.

Related: Obama Administration Argues GOP Health Care Suit Should be Tossed

Speaking from the G-7 summit on Monday, President Obama defended his administration’s approach to the ruling. White House officials have repeatedly said they have no plan B if the high court strikes down the subsidies, because they are confident that won’t happen.

In his remarks, Obama questioned the Supreme Court for even taking up the case, which centers on whether the law allows federal subsidies to go to residents of 34 states that have not set up their own health care marketplaces. The Court should allow the subsidies, the president, a former constitutional law professor, saidt was such an obvious legal question that this is an “easy case” and “probably shouldn’t even have been taken up” by the Court.

Those comments were clearly aimed at the conservative justices on the Court, who are believed to be hostile to the law and the administration’s interpretation of it.

And they fit Obama’s strategy from the past. In 2012, on the eve of a previous ruling that could have gutted the ACA, the president also publicly lectured the justices, urging them to show “restraint and deference to our duly elected legislature, our Congress” and “abide by well-established precedents.”

The president also emphasized on Monday “Congress could fix this whole thing with a one-sentence provision,” that clarified subsidies could go to residents of the 34 states using the federal exchange.

President Obama told reporters at a news conference Monday “… we're going to get a ruling pretty quick, I think it's important for us to go ahead and assume that the Supreme Court is going to do what most legal scholars who've looked at this would expect them to do.”

Obama said striking down one of the laws main tenants was a “bad idea” and said those who line up against the administration on this case have a “twisted interpretation” of the law.

Obama’s comments illustrate that both parties are preparing for the fallout from a Court decision that invalidates the subsidies, even though no one is sure what the justices will ultimately decide.

Republicans in Congress responded to Obama’s remarks by emphasizing they will not agree to a one-sentence fix. They are looking to a Court decision against Obamacare to press for greater changes to the law.

“Republicans aren’t interested in a one-sentence fix – unless that sentence is: ‘Obamacare is repealed,” Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming said in a statement.

The court case comes down to four words “established by the state”. Challengers say subsidies are only valid in states that set up their own exchanges. The Obama administration contends that was never the law's intent.

The president went on to defend the law as giving 16 million people health insurance with costs substantially lower than estimates.

“What's more, the thing is working," Obama said. "I mean, part of what's bizarre about this whole thing is we haven't had a lot of conversation about the horrors of Obamacare because none of them come to pass."

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