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The Supreme Court today upheld President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law in an historic ruling - but the Chief Justice dealt a blow to the White House by declaring that fining people for not buying insurance is a tax.
In a dramatic 5-to-4 ruling that represents a major victory for Obama and a potential boost to his re-election chances, the top U.S. court decided that the ‘individual mandate’ compelling people to get health insurance was constitutional.
The political sting in the tail for Obama, however, could be that the court rejected Obama administration’s argument that the mandate was permissible under the commerce clause and instead ruled that Congress nevertheless ‘has the power to impose’ it under its taxing authority.
It means that those who fail to buy health insurance will pay a tax fine and employers will also be fined if they fail to contribute to the insurance coverage of their workers.
Taking to the streets: Protestors have lined the Mall during the days leading up to Thursday's announcement
When he was selling what became known as ‘Obamacare’, the President insisted that it was in no way a tax. In September 2009, he told ABC News: ‘For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase.
‘What it’s saying is, is that we’re not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you anymore than the fact that right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase.’
Justice Anthony Kennedy, normally considered the swing vote on the court, sided with the three consistent conservatives Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in opposing the decision.
But it was a major surprise that Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by President George W. Bush, aligned himself with the liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan.
Celebrating: President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak in a few short hours and he will undoubtedly praise the court for approaching the issue in a relatively non-partisan way
The historic ruling triggered an immediate war of words between the rival parties, with Democrats hailing it a moral victory while Republicans urged voters to overturn the Supreme Court's decision by electing Romney.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described it as 'victory the American people' but Sarah Palin tweeted: 'He (Obama) said it wasn't a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.'
Mitt Romney held a press conference to air his reaction to the ruling, saying that 'I agree with the dissent.'
'What the court did not do in its last day in session, I will do in my first day if elected President of the United States,' he said in the Thursday press conference.
Dissenting opinion: Mitt Romney spoke about how he is disappointed by the Supreme Court ruling
'It did not do was say that it is a good law or a good policy... Obamacare was a bad law yesterday, it is a bad law today.'
THE SUPREME COURT'S HISTORIC RULING ON OBAMACARE
In a major point of contention, Mr Romney said that the plan would add trillions to the country's deficit and national debt- but that was rebuked by liberal commentators.
Despite its ruling on individual mandates, the Court rejected the mandatory Medicaid expansion, arguing that it is not legal to threaten to withhold other benefits if the states opted against certain other portions of the Affordable Care Act.
Commentators and legal analysts immediately gave Chief Justice Roberts much of the credit for the passage of the landmark law.
Five of the more conservative justices said that it violates the commerce clause, but that is more or less irrelevant because Chief Justice Roberts determined that it is legal under a different tax avenue.
The legislation was controversial from the get-go, with 26 states challenging its constitutionality before it was picked up by the Supreme Court.
Because the Affordable Care Act is arguably Mr Obama's most significant undertaking since taking office in January 2009, the decision will undoubtedly shape the path of the presidential campaign.
Mr Obama was obviously hoping for a win, and now that it was ruled in his favor, he is expected to make a speech very soon.
Minority leader Nancy Pelosi already spoke out on the decision, Tweeting: 'Victory for the American people! Millions of American families and children will have certainty of health care benefits + affordable care.'
Democratic congressman Jerrold Nadler from New York released a statement about the ruling.
'Today, in upholding the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court has shown that, even at a time when Washington seems to have reached a new level of dysfunction, there remains a respect for the rule of law, for precedent, and for the ability of Congress to legislate on matters that affect the American people,' he said in a statement.
The intricacies of the decision reveal that the Supreme Court weighed a number of very subtle legal options in coming up with their decision.
Throughout the debate, the Obama camp- most notably Solicitor General the court made the argument that the solicitor General Donald Verrilli- tried desperately to avoid deeming the Affordable Care Act as a tax.
Today's decision, however, shows that the nine justices found that the only legal way for the individual mandate to be enacted, however, is if it is considered under the taxing authority given to Congress.
Effectively the Court decided that it would violate the interstate commerce clause if the law were to be treated in the way that it was initially argued by Mr Obama's administration. But, that does not mean that it is illegal in its entirety.
Some Democratic analysts, including MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, are painting the Chief Justice’s decision to break from his conservative tendencies and write the unexpected ruling as a result of a moral decision to support the spread of a national health care law.
Proud: Nancy Pelosi celebrated with staff during the moments after the ruling was announced
'Now Teddy can rest': One of Pelosi's first phone calls was to Senator Ted Kennedy's widow Vicki because he was a champion of universal health care prior to his death
Happy: Minority leader Nancy Pelosi Tweeted about the Supreme Court decision shortly after it was announced
Many early reports said that while he was 'confident' that the court would uphold the constitutionality of the legislation, sources with knowledge about the situation said that he was also fearing that the conservative-heavy court may strike down the individual mandate portion of the law.
The theory behind the mandate permits that by forcing all Americans to buy health insurance, it will lead to fewer emergency room visits by uninsured individuals which would keep hospital costs down.
Conservatives argue that such a move is not only unconstitutional but also bad for business.
The fact that Chief Justice Roberts, one of the court's conservative members, wrote the majority opinion that allowed the individual mandate to go into effect, it insures the Republican party will begin attacking the court in the coming
Taking the side of small business owners, who, if the law goes into effect, would have to help cover the costs of all of their workers' insurance and would effectively raise operating costs to an extent that their profit margins would be threatened.
Awaiting word: President Barack Obama will address the decision this afternoon
TAKING TO TWITTER: REACTIONS
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has kept touting that line of argument, resting heavily on his business background and stressing the damage that he feels it would do to the country's struggling economy.
In the days leading up to the announcement, Mr Romney spoke extensively about the Supreme Court ruling in his stump speeches at campaign events in Virginia, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.
'My guess is they're not sleeping real well at the White House tonight,' he said Wednesday night in Virginia.
The decision is clearly not what they were hoping for, but that does not mean that the Romney camp has little to smile about: one of his campaign managers told MSNBC that they had already raised over $100,000 in the hour following the Supreme Court announcement.
In spite of waiting for the decision to begin bombarding the airwaves with news about the ruling itself, Mr Romney's camp released ads promising that if he wins the election, he will repeal the bill from behind the Resolute desk.
The issue was initially problematic for Mr Romney during the primaries as he enacted a relatively similar scheme in Massachusetts when he was governor.
Supporting the cause: President Barack Obama made the Affordable Health Care Act a pivotal portion of his presidential legacy, so the decision will have a great impact on his re-election campaign
Controversy: Mitt Romney and the Republicans have argued that the health care legislation is bad for business and unconstitutional
After taking a beating for that decision from his more conservative competitors, Mr Romney was able to collect enough support from elsewhere in the party to move past that line of attack and focus again on the economy.
Such a move is expected in light of today's ruling as well.
One Republican strategist told Politico's Mike Allen that if health care was struck down by the Court, the best move for the GOP would be to drive the point home that Mr Obama spent much of his early time in office on a piece of legislation that is no longer valid rather than focusing on the economy and dismal unemployment rates at the time.
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