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Political Diagnosis Post-Health Care Decision


For more now on the political impact of the Supreme Court ruling, we're joined by NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, hi.


BLOCK: We heard jubilation from Democrats, some shock from Republicans there. This is clearly a very important legal win for the president and for his policy on health care. But until this point, health care has not always been a winning issue for the president. Let's listen to some of what he said today addressing that question.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I know the debate over this law has been divisive. I respect the very real concerns that millions of Americans have shared. And I know a lot of coverage through this health care debate has focused on what it means politically. Well, it should be pretty clear by now that I didn't do this because it was good politics. I did it because I believed it was good for the country.

BLOCK: So, Mara, what do you think, is it any better politics for the president now that the Supreme Court has ruled in his favor?

LIASSON: Well, it certainly is better politics than if they had ruled against him. That would've been a huge defeat. It would have been, you know, his legacy achievement obliterated. And it would've opened him up to the attacks that Mitt Romney was already making, that he wasted the first two or three years of his term. He took his eye off the ball - off the ball of the economy for nothing.

BLOCK: Let's talk about Mitt Romney here. This was not the decision that Republicans were expecting, but it does keep alive a central message of their campaign, which is that they need to elect Republicans to help repeal the health care law. And let's listen to a bit of Governor Romney talking about that today.

MITT ROMNEY: If you don't want the course that President Obama has put us on, if you want instead a course that the Founders envisioned, then join me in this effort. Help us. Help us defeat Obamacare. Help us defeat the liberal agenda that makes government too big, too intrusive and that's killing jobs across this great country.

BLOCK: Mara, does this become a galvanizing force for the Romney campaign?

LIASSON: Well, I think it does give Romney a big target. The president got a victory but Romney got a big target. This law is unpopular. It's been unpopular from the start. It's particularly unpopular with the Republican base. So I think they were already energized to vote against President Obama. But I think this does give him an extra way to get them turned out and to the polls.

So, he's able to say it's no longer legal question, it's a political question. The only way that you can get rid of the health care law is by electing me.

BLOCK: Do you think, Mara, that public opinion on this question of health care reform is fluid enough that the ruling might turn around how Americans feel about this law and their reaction to it?

LIASSON: Well, that's a really good question. Up until now, we know that although a small majority of Americans don't like the law, the energy was always on the opponent's side. More of the opponents feel strongly against the law than supporters felt strongly for the law.

Now we have the court - which although has been dropping in the eyes of Americans, it's still a popular, respected institution - they've given the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval to this law. And it's not just a partisan majority of the court. It wasn't your typical 5-4 majority of conservatives. This was conservative Chief Justice Roberts siding with the liberal bloc.

The question is this isn't going to change partisans' opinions, but will it change the minds of just enough swing voters to make a difference? And I think everyone is waiting to see the polling on this, to see if it does change anybody's mind.

BLOCK: Mara, one last thing. We heard Mitch McConnell in David Welna's piece talking about the fact that the court decided that the penalty for not carrying health insurance is a tax, which is a dirty word for many in politics. How does the president and his campaign, how do they deal with that?

LIASSON: Well, that's a good question because the president was adamant during the whole effort to pass health care that this wasn't a tax. He told George Stephanopoulos, of ABC, very famously that this was not a tax.

BLOCK: Tax increase.

LIASSON: A tax increase, right. He believed he couldn't get the votes for it if he came out and said it was. But then they turned around and they went to the court and they argued that it was a tax. They said if you don't want to find it constitutional under the Commerce Clause, we'll give you another way to find a constitutional under Congress's power to tax. And that's the thing that finally did convince Chief Justice Roberts.

So now, Republicans are going to go out and say he's raising your taxes. But under this definition, Democrats can come right back and say, well, Mitt Romney raised taxes in Massachusetts too; even though Romney has said all along that he never raised taxes.

So, I think you're going to hear a lot about this in this campaign. And we're going to have another debate about who's raising whose taxes.

BLOCK: OK. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.