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Thursday, December 18, 2014  

Health care win boosts Obama image, kicks up new election row
WASHINGTON The US Supreme Court enshrined Barack Obama’s legacy as a transformative president on Thursday, but its fateful health care decision unleashed an explosive new row in an already volatile election.

A divided conservative majority court narrowly upheld the bulk of Obama’s defining political act, an historic law that brought the world’s richest nation closer than ever before to universal health coverage for all citizens.

“I know there will be a lot of discussion today about the politics of all this - about who won and who lost,” Obama said. “But that discussion completely misses the point.”

But in Washington, being Washington, pundits spent the day assessing the impact of the ruling on Obama’s November election clash with Republican Mitt Romney.

On the face of it, the ruling was a huge vindication for a president who expended his political capital to drive the reform through Congress even though critics said he should have focused solely on the economic meltdown.

Successive Democratic presidents had failed to pass health reform, which amounted to the most sweeping social reform legislation since the 1960s.

But the ruling also offered new ammunition for conservatives fiercely opposed to what they dub “Obamacare” and will ensure the unpopular law remains a key election issue, which may trouble the president.

“The guy who was most threatened today was Obama. There was almost no place for him to hide had he lost this - the seminal act of his presidency... was going to go under,” Stephen Ryan, former general counsel of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, said.

“It is as big an act as killing Osama Bin Laden in terms of giving his presidency a temporary boost.”

However, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a champion of conservative causes, stunned the US political establishment by casting the deciding vote to uphold Obama’s health reforms.

With Thursday’s landmark ruling, observers are taking a new look at Roberts, 57, long seen as a bedrock conservative who in seven years on the court has cast decisive votes favouring social conservatives and business interests.

“It is momentous that the conservative chief justice provided the critical vote and wrote the decision saving the administration’s most vital achievement,” said Tom Goldstein, a longtime Supreme Court expert.

Republicans would have argued had the act been struck down that Obama spent a year-and-a-half fighting for a reform that Americans did not want, that detracted from reviving the economy and was not even constitutional.

Now, Obama can turn to Romney, who has vowed to repeal Obamacare, in a presidential debate, and say the act bears the approval of a conservative-majority Supreme Court.

“Politically, it is a clear win for Obama, who can now campaign on the legitimacy of his signature issue come this fall,” said Christopher Malone, a political science professor at Pace University in New York.

Senior Obama aides privately cautioned against the idea that Obama could expect a huge electoral boost at the polls from Thursday’s ruling.

Costas Panagopoulos of Fordham University said the decision would “set the stage for the coming election, it gives the president some ammunition, and it gives his opponents some ammunition.”

Though Roberts infuriated fellow conservatives by siding with Obama he also offered them an opening, by arguing that the government could tax consumers who refuse to buy health insurance.

Agencies
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