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Democrats, GOP Say Health Ruling Works For Them


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Members of Congress have left town for the Fourth of July recess, but Washington is still reacting to the Supreme Court decision upholding President Obama's health care law. Each party is looking for ways to use the decision to its advantage in the fall campaign. Going into the weekend, a Gallup poll showed voters evenly split; 46 percent said they approved of the ruling, 46 percent disapprove.

Joining us now for some analysis is political commentator Cokie Roberts. Hi, Cokie.


WERTHEIMER: Now, both Democrats and Republicans are claiming that the Court's ruling will work for them. They can't both have it right, can they?

ROBERTS: Well, maybe they could. Both sides could be right that it works to excite the true believers in their own parties. And the Republicans have been beating the drum of repeal since last Thursday, with their congressional leaders going out on the Sunday talk shows yesterday to keep up that message. Speaker John Boehner said that the health care bill has to be ripped out by its roots.

Look, as you know, it's an easy bumper-sticker: Repeal Obamacare. And they're convinced it'll work for them since the law as a whole remains generally unpopular.

Democrats, on the other hand, are trying to talk specifics; talk about the law covering people who have pre-existing conditions, allowing young people to stay on their parents insurance, all of those things. And they keep pressing Republicans who are talking about repeal, saying, well, what would you do about those things? And the Republicans just say, well, they'll come up with practical, common sense solutions after they've rooted out this law.

And the House does have a vote on repeal scheduled as soon as members get back to town. It is, of course, a show vote. They've had dozens of them on this bill so far. And of course it'll go no place in the Senate. But the Republicans are doing it 'cause they think it'll work for them politically. I think it could backfire.

WERTHEIMER: Why do you think that?

ROBERTS: Well, because of those specifics that the Democrats are talking about. And those are so easy to put into campaign ads. Do an ad that shows Mary Jane here who has breast cancer who can't get health insurance, but could under Obamacare, and say: My opponent voted to take that away from her. And that would be perfectly truthful, if an opponent voted to repeal Obamacare - so as it is called by the Republicans and now the president as well.

And I think the whole campaign's going to be like that; Democrats going after specifics, Republicans the big picture. So Democrats will say my Republican opponent voted to end Medicare as we know it, because he voted for the Republican budget. And the Republicans will say we want to bring down the deficit. And the Democrats will talk about Republicans helping the rich. And the Republicans will talk about the Democrats raising taxes.

And that'll be true across the board on the congressional level and the presidential level. The Democrats think they win on priorities. The Republicans think they win on philosophy.

WERTHEIMER: What about the small problem that voters keep telling pollsters that it's not health care, its jobs that they care about?

ROBERTS: Well, yeah. Now, I think both parties think they can tie these issues to jobs. But we're only talking about a very few voters in the middle here that they need to convince. So they keep hammering away at what makes the other guy scary. Clearly though, there is some concern on part of Congress that the voters have had it with them. Their approval ratings, of course, have been very low.

And it's no accident that before they went home on Friday, they actually did - actually did get something done, big bipartisan compromises on student loans, highways, flood insurance. We haven't seen votes like this in a very long time, Linda. Three hundred and seventy-three House members voted for the combined bills, 74 senators. They'll actually be able to tout something they've done in their 4th of July speeches.

WERTHEIMER: Why were they able to come together at this moment when they haven't been able to come together very often or on very many topics?

ROBERTS: Well, at some point practicality tops philosophy, even with this particular Congress. And having student loan rates double in this economy is not sellable and neither is flood insurance running out. But actually, what they were seeing was President Obama's approval rating go up, as he ran against a do-nothing Congress. And they're worried that it could help him for them to do nothing. So they did something.

WERTHEIMER: Political commentator Cokie Roberts, thank you.

ROBERTS: Bye, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Wertheimer
As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.
Cokie Roberts
Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.