Obama on Chief Justice Roberts’s vote in NFIB: “I wasn’t surprised.”

October 25th, 2012

Back in April, shortly after NIFB v. Sebelius was argued, President Obama said he was confident.

Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. And I’d just remind conservative commentators that 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.

A confident President would not need to at-best nudge, and at-worst intimidate, the Justices into upholding his eponymous law.

Today, months removed from the Court’s position, the President in an interview with Rolling Stone took something of a victory lap.

How do you feel about Justice Roberts’ ruling on the Affordable Care Act? Were you surprised?
I wasn’t surprised. I was always confident that the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, was constitutional. It was interesting to see them, or Justice Roberts in particular, take the approach that this was constitutional under the taxing power. The truth is that if you look at the precedents dating back to the 1930s, this was clearly constitutional under the Commerce Clause. I think Justice Roberts made a decision that allowed him to preserve the law but allowed him to keep in reserve the desire, maybe, to scale back Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause in future cases.

Yes, it is not “them,” it is just the Chief who took that position. If only Jeff Toobin could include this quotation in his book!

What made you so certain that the law was constitutional?
It’s hard to dispute that health care is a national issue of massive importance. It takes up 17 or 18 percent of our entire economy; it touches on everybody’s lives; it is a massive burden on businesses, on our federal budget and on families. It’s practiced across state lines. So the notion that Congress could not take a comprehensive approach to that problem the way we have makes no sense.

I am very proud of the steps we’ve taken already: making sure that insurance companies can’t impose lifetime limits that could leave families high and dry if somebody gets a severe illness. Parents being able to keep their kids on their own plans until they’re 26 years old. The rebates that are already going out to customers because we’ve said to insurance companies that you’ve got to spend the dollars you collect in premiums on actually providing care, not just on overhead and CEO salaries. The $600 a year that seniors are saving on their prescription drugs. The tax breaks we’re providing small businesses in order to provide health insurance for their families. The cost-control measures that are trying to develop better ways of providing care. All those things are already happening. By 2014, people who have pre-existing conditions or individuals who are paying 18 or 20 percent more for health insurance than somebody on a big group plan – they’re going to have a chance to get affordable care, and we’ll provide tax credits to the folks who need it.

So this is a model that we know can work. It’s working in Massachusetts right now – you have 98 percent of adults and 99.5 percent of kids in Massachusetts with health insurance. For the greatest nation on Earth not to make sure that people aren’t going bankrupt when they get sick – that was a blot on our society. And for us to take this step forward is something that is really going to make a big difference for millions of families for decades to come. It also gives us our best opportunity to start really going after the waste and inefficiencies of the system, so that we can start cutting back on the health care inflation that is driving our deficit and hurting families and businesses every single day.

None of the President’s answers as to why it is constitutional is relevant, as no one disputed that health care is a big portion of the economy. The question at hand was whether the mandate was a permissible exercise of congressional power.

Later, the President had no qualms with calling it “Obamacare”–it is now part of what he calls “our basic social compact.”

You said, “a.k.a. Obamacare.” Do you mind if historians call the achievement Obamacare? I’ll be very proud. Because I’m confident that I’m going to win this election, and that we’re going to implement it over the next four years. Just like Medicare and Social Security, as time goes on, as people see what it does, as it gets refined and improved, people will say, “This was the last piece to our basic social compact” – providing people with some core security from the financial burdens of an illness or bad luck.

At one point it was racist to call it Obamacare.

And what about Roe?

Do you have any fear that Roe v. Wade could be overturned if the Republicans win the presidency and appoint another Supreme Court justice?
I don’t think there’s any doubt. Governor Romney has made clear that’s his position. His running mate has made this one of the central principles of his public life. Typically, a president is going to have one or two Supreme Court nominees during the course of his presidency, and we know that the current Supreme Court has at least four members who would overturn Roe v. Wade. All it takes is one more for that to happen.
I’m glad someone finally asked POTUS about the Supreme Court, though unfortunately it was not at a debate.