In his first thorough comments since the Supreme Court began weighing the constitutionality of health care reform, President Obama launched an impassioned defense of his law on Monday, and cautioned conservatives against embracing the judicial activism the right claims to deplore.
“Ultimately I’m confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected congress,” Obama said at a Rose Garden press conference. “And I just remind conservative commentators that for years, what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint. An unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example. And I’m pretty confident this court will recognize that and not take that step.”
Obama noted that past precedent supports the law’s mandate that people purchase health insurance — indeed, he noted that two conservative appellate court judges, Justices Laurence Silberman and Jeffrey Sutton, upheld it. But beyond dismissing the technical legal objection to the mandate, Obama defended the unpopular policy itself as a tool that allows the government to forbid insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing medical conditions.
“In accordance with precedent out there, it is constitutional,” Obama said. “That’s not just my opinion, by the way. That’s the opinion of legal experts across the ideological spectrum, including two very conservative appellate court justices who said this wasn’t even a close case.”
“[T]his is not an abstract argument,” Obama added.
People’s lives are affected by the lack of availability of health care, the inaffordability of health care, their inability to get health care because of pre-existing conditions. The law that is already in place gives 5 million young people health care that wouldn’t otherwise have it. There are tens of thousands of adults with pre-existing conditions who have health care right now because of this law. Parents don’t have to worry about their children not being able to get health care because they can’t be prevented from getting health care as a consequence of a pre-existing condition. That’s part of this law. Millions of seniors are paying less for prescription drugs because of this law. Americans all across the country have greater rights and protections with respect to their insurance companies and they’re getting preventive care because of this law. That’s just the part that has already been implemented. That doesn’t speak to the 30 million people who stand to gain coverage once it is fully implemented in 2014. And I think it is important, and I think the American people understand, and I think the justices should understand that in the absence of an individual mandate, you cannot have a mechanism to insure that people with pre-existing conditions can actually get health care. So there is not only an economic element to this but there is a human element to this.
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Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.