WASHINGTON — Republican congressional leaders said Sunday that voters — not the Supreme Court — will have the final word on President Barack Obama's health care law come November. And they are betting that the law's unpopularity will be enough to drive Democrats from power.
The White House's response? Bring it on.
"We've got one last chance here to beat Obamacare, and we can do that in the November election," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling the law the "single worst piece of legislation" passed in modern times.
White House chief of staff Jack Lew countered that he believes most Americans want to put the health care debate to rest.
"I actually think the American people want us to focus on the economy, on creating jobs and moving forward," said Lew.
Republicans and Democrats have been wrangling for the upper hand in the health care debate since last week's Supreme Court ruling upholding the law's mandate that individuals buy health insurance or face a penalty. Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, provided the pivotal vote in that decision by ruling that the penalty was legal under the government's taxing authority.
While technically handing a political victory to Obama, Roberts' ruling invigorated Republicans eager to cast the law as a new tax.
"The American people do not want to go down this path," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "They do not want the government telling them what kind of insurance policy they have to buy, and how much they have to pay for it, and if you don't like it we're going to tax you."
Democrats refute the characterization of the law. Lew said the mandate would impact only 1 percent of Americans — those who can afford health insurance but refuse to buy it.
"This is a penalty on free riders," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Yet public opposition to the health care law remains high. Forty-seven percent of respondents in a recent Associated Press-GfK poll said they oppose the law while 33 percent said they support it.
However, much of the polling does find strong support for individual elements, like allowing young adults to remain on their parents' plan to age 26. Some Democrats see that as an opening to reframe the debate.
Republicans say they believe last week's ruling by the high court gives them fresh ammunition to attack Obama — and the Democrats who support him — in the upcoming election because of the health care bill's connection to jobs. The GOP says the law puts onerous mandates on industry that could stifle job creation.
"I think it's intertwined with the economy, and I think it's an example where Washington doesn't get it," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., of the health care bill.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that Republicans, including Mitt Romney, are "being the mouthpiece of the health care industry" and that the bill will actually improve the economy.
"The costs were unsustainable," she said of the current health care system. "It's a competitiveness issue for business and for our economy. So we had to (come) to a place where we lowered costs to all concerned, and that we again take it down a path where we continue to lower costs."
If given control of the Senate next year, McConnell said he would support using budget reconciliation rules to repeal the health care law. Doing so would prohibit Senate filibusters and require only 51 votes to succeed. In 2010, Republicans lambasted Democrats for relying on these rules to pass the health care bill, calling their tactics unusual and hyperpartisan.20 comments on this story
McConnell said he'll do whatever it takes to repeal the law.
"I'm confident they're going to give us the votes to repeal it," he said of the American public.
The House is scheduled to vote to overturn the law on July 9. The vote will largely be symbolic since the Democrats control the Senate. But it will put lawmakers on record for the upcoming political campaign.
McConnell and Lew spoke on "Fox News Sunday." Boehner, Schumer and Coburn spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation." Pelosi spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press."