Health Care Ruling to Shape 2012 Race ; as the Supreme Court Deliberates, Both Sides Prepare for the Fallout

Article excerpt

There is but one certainty about the legal argument: There will be substantial political fallout no matter how the Supreme Court rules.

The law professor side of President Barack Obama is highly intrigued by the Supreme Court hearings over the constitutionality of his health care law. He studied a summary of the arguments aboard Air Force One as he flew back from a nuclear summit meeting in South Korea.

The political side of the president may need to draw upon his judicial patience as he awaits a ruling that will help shape the final stages of the presidential race.

For all of the fretting by liberals and the tea-leaf reading by legal analysts about the pointed questioning from the justices about the health law, there is but one certainty: There will be substantial political fallout no matter how the court rules.

Successful political races, particularly presidential campaigns, are built on planning for every likely outcome. Mitt Romney, should he secure the Republican nomination, would confront tricky political calculations regardless of the ruling, given his role in enacting a health care law in Massachusetts built around the same type of mandate at the heart of the Supreme Court case.

But for the White House and the president's re-election team, the challenge begins immediately. They must publicly defend the law's constitutionality and push back against suggestions that the battle is lost, even as they privately piece together a contingency plan if the law -- or part of it -- is overturned.

The early outlines of the plan came into view on Wednesday as the administration aggressively promoted the more popular provisions of the health care law. That offered a glimpse of the next three months, as the court wrestles with its ruling on the most sweeping piece of domestic legislation since Medicare was created in 1965.

"It's foolhardy to try to predict the outcome of this decision based solely on the questions of the judges," said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman. He added, "If there is a reason or a need for us to consider some contingencies down the line, then we'll do it then."

It was two years ago that Mr. Obama stood in the East Room of the White House and signed the health care bill, pausing as his supporters in the crowd sounded the old rallying cry of his presidential race: "Fired up! Ready to go!" Health care had been an important issue in his campaign, but hardly the central thrust.

If the Supreme Court strikes down the health care law, Republicans hope to make it a prominent element of their effort to deny him a second term.

"It would be a tremendous validation," Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, a Republican, said in an interview. "A victory in court would say that a trend toward big-government solutions out of Washington has a limit and the biggest accomplishment of the Obama administration is unconstitutional."

If the administration loses its argument, one early strategy is to run squarely against the Supreme Court. Democrats believe that Mr. Obama could fashion himself as a modern-day Franklin D. Roosevelt, trying to convince voters that a majority of the justices are in the pocket of the Republicans. …