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Republicans Say Health Care Fight Still Has Life


Across the street at the Capitol, lawmakers lined up to issue their reactions to the court's ruling upholding the health care law. Democrats celebrated what for many of them was an unexpected victory. Republicans denounced the decision and vowed to repeal the law.

NPR's David Welna has that story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: At the Capitol, the initial response to the court ruling was an eerie silence, which was soon broken on the Senate floor by the Democrat who pushed the health care bill through that chamber two and a half years ago, Majority Leader Harry Reid.

SENATOR HARRY REID: I'm happy. I'm pleased to see the Supreme Court put the rule of law ahead of partisanship, and ruled that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.

WELNA: Speaking at the steps of the high court, Maryland Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski said, thank God, the Supreme Court followed the Constitution.

SENATOR BARBARA MIKULSKI: We now know that health care is legal, constitutional, undeniable and irreversible. Let's hear it for democracy. The system works and it'll work for the American people.

WELNA: For Democrats, the ruling was also grounds to tweak Republicans, and their presidential contender, Mitt Romney, who signed a health care overhaul with an individual mandate six years ago, as governor of Massachusetts.

Raul Grijalva is a House Democrat from Arizona.

REPRESENTATIVE RAUL GRIJALVA: Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that RomneyCare is constitutional and they should be happy with that. And they should celebrate it with us.

WELNA: But Republicans are anything but happy with the decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts. Congressman Randy Forbes, of Virginia, attended the handing down of that decision and declared himself shocked.

REPRESENTATIVE RANDY FORBES: What we saw today is really a shattering of the illusion that this court is going to stand between individuals and just arbitrary and very outrageous decisions of their government. And Justice Roberts said that in his decision when he said this court is not going to protect us from bad political decisions.

WELNA: Back in the Senate chamber, Republican leader Mitch McConnell found at least one silver lining in the ruling. Democrats, he said, had denied during the health care debate that the penalty for not buying health insurance would be a tax.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Because they knew it would never have passed if they said it was a tax. Well, the Supreme Court has spoken, this law is a tax. The bill was sold to the American people on a deception.

WELNA: And Texas Republican John Cornyn declared on the Senate floor that the court's ruling had clear implications for the November elections.

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: The only way to stop the overreaching by the federal government, including the president's flawed health care bill, is to elect a new president and a Congress that will repeal and replace this fundamentally flawed law.

WELNA: House Speaker John Boehner held a news conference two hours later than it had first been scheduled. He said while he was disappointed in the court's decision, he respected it. But he did not respect the law it upheld.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: The real outcome of today's decision is to strengthen our resolve and to make sure that this law is in fact repealed.

WELNA: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the court's decision to show the nation has entered an age in which Washington controls health care, unless something changes.

REPRESENTATIVE ERIC CANTOR: And that's why when we return the week of July 9th, I've scheduled a vote for total repeal of the Obamacare bill, to occur on Wednesday, July 11th.

WELNA: House Republicans have already voted to repeal all or parts of the health care bill on at least thirty occasions in the past year and a half. Senate Democrats say they're wasting their time. Such a repeal would never go forward in a Senate that for now remains under their control.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.