Fight takes shape over U.S. health care mandate

13:27, December 18, 2010      

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For those who thought the controversy over U.S. President Barack Obama's health care reform died after the law was passed nearly a year ago, think again.

Indeed, a movement is ramping up to repeal a measure that requires Americans to purchase health insurance, on grounds that opponents believe the provision is unconstitutional.

On Monday, a district court in Virginia ruled that the mandate oversteps Congress' power to regulate commerce. The decision marked the federal government's first loss in a string of recent challenges in Florida and Michigan and comes a year after Democrats and Republicans waged a bitter battle over the passage of Obama's health care overhaul.

Efforts to peel back the law have much to do with GOP posturing in the lead up to the 2012 presidential elections, in which Republicans will try to unseat Obama, analysts said.

Republicans are well aware that any effort to repeal the healthcare reform law, or parts of it, will be an uphill climb. But that will not stop them from trying: GOP members are likely to call attention to unpopular provisions in the law in a bid to weaken Obama in the 2012 presidential elections, analysts said.

CHANCES OF REPEAL

Thus far, federal judges have disagreed on the constitutionality of the individual mandate, with two upholding it and one invalidating it.

That legal opinion on the matter is fractured means the dispute will likely lead to a slugfest in the Supreme Court, said Darrell M. West, director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.

Still, chances are slim that the individual mandate will be peeled back, at least while the Senate remains under Democratic control, he said.

Moreover, the president would veto any challenge to his health care reform, analysts said.

BIT BY BIT OR ALL AT ONCE?

Dan Mahaffee, special assistant to the president at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, said whether the GOP tries to repeal the entire bill or just chip away at it depends on whether those efforts are spearheaded by newly elected tea partiers or Republican moderates, who would take a more measured approach.

The latest Rasmussen survey shows that 60 percent of likely U.S. voters at least somewhat favor repeal of the health care law, while 34 percent are opposed.

Nevertheless, some parts of it remain popular, such as provisions prohibiting insurers from denying coverage to sick children and baring insurance companies from dropping them when they become sick.

So if Republicans are politically savvy, they will only take a stab at bits and pieces of the legislation, as opposed to trying to repeal all of it, Mahaffee said.

There is, however, the possibility that Republicans, fresh on the heels of sweeping victories in last month's mid term elections, could take aim at the entire law. But doing so would risk overplaying their hand, he said.

But incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner would likely move to temper such a play, Mahaffee, said. The Congressman remembers the 1995 government shutdown forced by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, which ultimately backfired and helped lead to a second term for former President Bill Clinton.

John Fortier, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that only if Republicans win both the presidency and Congress would they potentially be able to roll back large chunks of the reform, adding that GOP members might attempt to slow the law's implementation.

If the mandate is struck down, there are several other "fixes" that could be made to recast it in a different way, which would pass constitutional muster. But the problem is that Republicans would be in no mood to help Democrats make those changes, he said.

Source: Xinhua
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