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Obama 'Confident' Health Care Law Will Be Upheld


The work of the Supreme Court was also a topic of discussion today at the White House. President Obama said he's confident the justices will uphold his health care law. These are the president's first comments on the case since last week's hearings before the high court testing whether the law is constitutional. NPR's Scott Horsley reports that the president warned of human consequences if the law is struck down.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama was out of the country for much of last week's high court showdown. But even while he was traveling, he got regular updates and read transcripts of the arguments. Administration lawyers were grilled by the high court's conservative justices about whether the government had overreached in requiring nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance. In a Rose Garden news conference this afternoon, Mr. Obama tried to sound positive about the fate of his signature legislative achievement.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm confident that this will be upheld because it should be upheld.

HORSLEY: The law professor turned politician added that's not just my opinion but the conclusion of many legal experts from across the political spectrum.

OBAMA: ...including two very conservative appellate court justices that said this wasn't even a close case.

HORSLEY: For decades, the high court has given Congress wide latitude to regulate commerce. And Mr. Obama suggested it would take a particularly brazen group of justices to change course now. In making this argument, he relied on a complaint typically voiced by conservatives in the past.

OBAMA: For years, what we've heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example, and I'm pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step.

HORSLEY: All the same, many observers of last week's hearings saw a good chance five justices will vote to strike down the individual insurance mandate and possibly the whole health care law. Mr. Obama argued this is not just some abstract legal argument about the limits of government power. He said whether people can get health insurance at affordable prices has a direct impact on the quality of their lives.

OBAMA: There's not only an economic element to this and a legal element to this, but there's a human element to this. And I hope that's not forgotten in this political debate.

HORSLEY: White House officials insist they're focused on implementing the health care law, and that they're not drawing up contingency plans for what to do should the court strike it down. Mr. Obama stressed some popular features of the law are already making a difference: allowing young adults to stay on their parents' insurance plans, for example, and reducing seniors' costs for prescription drugs. The provision at the center of the court battle - the requirement that nearly everyone have health insurance - has not yet taken effect. But Mr. Obama says that measure is inextricably linked to one of the law's most popular features - preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to people who are already sick.

OBAMA: The American people understand, and I think the justices should understand that in the absence of an individual mandate, you can not have a mechanism to ensure that people with preexisting conditions can actually get health care.

HORSLEY: The president's remarks came during a news conference with leaders of Canada and Mexico who were in Washington today for a North American summit meeting.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon took the opportunity to discuss his country's health care initiatives, including more than 1,000 new clinics and a six-fold increase in the federal health care budget. Speaking through an interpreter, Calderon said Mexico is now providing health care for nearly all of its citizens.

PRESIDENT FELIPE CALDERON: (Through Translator) I would hope that one of the greatest economies in the world, such as the United States, could follow our example in achieving this because it was a great thing.

HORSLEY: Canada also provides universal health care for its citizens, but in the Rose Garden today, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper opted not to weigh in on the domestic politics of the United States.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.