WOOSTER -- The U.S. Supreme Court might have upheld the constitutionality of the health care reform law -- including its most controversial part, the individual mandate -- but Congressional Republicans indicated the opinion delivered Thursday just might not be the final word.
Congressmen Jim Renacci, a Wadsworth Republican whose 16th District includes all of Wayne and part of Ashland counties, and Bob Gibbs, a Lakeville Republican whose 18th District includes Holmes County, both said they support repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as Obamacare.
"We're going to vote for a full repeal (in the U.S. House of Representatives) in the second week of July," Renacci said.
"I'm really disappointed in the ruling," Gibbs said. "They kind of punted. The mandate is unconstitutional (through the commerce clause), but Congress has the ability to tax. They are saying Obamacare is just a bunch of taxes. They confirmed it.
"It needs to be repealed."
Gibbs said he has voted 30 times to either repeal the entire law or parts of it. He said the law adds costs to employers, especially small businesses, and it is making it harder for them to expand and hire.
"It did nothing to address the escalating cost of health care," Gibbs said. "It's not good for the economy, and it's not good for freedom. It's an expansion of big government."
"The decision of the Supreme Court really doesn't change the facts," Renacci said. The health care law is hurting the economy and is making it harder for small businesses to hire, he added.
"The Supreme Court has spoken, and we need to move forward," Congresswoman Betty Sutton, a Copley Township Democrat, stated in a press release. "It is past time for members from both parties to move on to the major economic problems facing our country -- creating jobs and helping small businesses grow."
Former U.S. Rep. John Boccieri, an Alliance Democrat who served one term representing the 16th District, cast a vote that helped enact the health care reform law. His reaction when he heard the opinion was, "Really, it had to come to this level of drama at the Supreme Court?"
Boccieri said he had a hard time seeing a conservative court overturn a conservative idea, a reference to the concept of an individual mandate appearing in a Heritage Foundation publication in 1989. However, it was Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by George W. Bush, who joined four Democratic-appointed justices to make the 5-4 majority.
"The drama of (Thursday) had more to do with politics than legal perspective," Boccieri said. He read the law and thought the legal arguments supporting it were pretty strong.
State Sen. Larry Obhof, a Montville Township Republican whose 22nd District covers Wayne, Holmes, Ashland and Medina counties, was one of four attorneys who worked on the lawsuit by the National Federation of Independent Business that challenged the constitutionality of the health care reform legislation. He said he was surprised by the court's decision. While the court ruled the individual mandate was a valid exercise of Congress' taxing authority, President Barack Obama went on television and said it was not a tax.
It's strange that the president would sell it politically as not being a tax -- the law references the commerce clause and not the taxing authority -- and then told his solicitor to argue it was tax, Obhof said.
"It's cause for concern," Obhof said. "In more than 200 years, the federal government never forced an individual to buy any product or service. I think it is a significant overreach."
Obhof said he hopes his colleagues in Congress will revisit the issue and either repeal the law or parts of it, like the individual mandate.
"Realistically, we need a new president for that to happen," Obhof added.
As for the individual mandate, which forces all people to purchase health insurance, being a Republican idea, Obhof said he did not care whether it was a Republican or Democratic idea because "the federal government cannot force an individual to buy something."
Local attorney Charlie Kennedy said he was surprised by the ruling.
"The ruling on the commerce clause seems to be a step in a different direction," Kennedy said, adding this court has found a distinction between regulating commerce and compelling commerce. "It draws a line in the sand." If Congress wants to compel someone to purchase something, it does not have the authority. "It put a limitation on the commerce clause."
The commerce clause, which allows Congress to regulate international and interstate commerce, has been interpreted liberally since the New Deal, Kennedy said.
In Roberts' opinion, he said Congress could impose the individual mandate as a tax, but not under the commerce clause, though the government argued if people did not purchase insurance, it would create cost-shifting -- people with insurance subsidizing those without it, and have an adverse affect on interstate commerce.
Kennedy said he sees a danger in using the taxing authority of the federal government to force someone to do, or not do, something.
"How will this be applied in other circumstances," Kennedy asked. "It could be applied to a number of things."
As an example, Kennedy said what if the federal government ordered everyone to buy perch from Lake Erie. Those people who do not like fish would end up having to pay a tax to the IRS.
John Estill, former chairman of the Holmes County Democratic Party, said he is very pleased with the Supreme Court's opinion, though he was not sure the justices would uphold the individual mandate.
"They didn't like the way it was structured, but they found a way to interpret it through the tax code," Estill said. "Whatever works, works."
"I think the whole, complicated act is important. It begins to rationalize the delivery of health care. I believe it will make (health care) affordable, and it's important that more people will be covered."
Ohio House Minority Leader Armond Budish lauded Thursday's decision, saying, "This is a victory for all Ohioans: seniors, kids and young adults; entrepreneurs and working people; and middle class families. President Obama and Democrats have fought tirelessly to ensure quality, affordable healthcare for all regardless of health status and condition."
Brian Rothenberg, executive director of Progress Ohio, a liberal advocacy group, said, "Somewhere in Ohio this law will help a family survive financial devastation from health care bills. Somewhere in Ohio this law will help a child born with a pre-existing condition survive and thrive. Somewhere in Ohio this law will help a person facing life or death decisions over fair access to affordable health care services."
As Boccieri reflected on the battle in Congress when the bill was voted on, he said, "I think the Democratic leadership could have done a better job of explaining what we were doing. We had the national microphone."
However, Boccieri said he believes the Republicans were able to successfully frame the argument around emotions, picking up on a struggling economy and saying the health care battle was one of freedom. "It was really about responsibility," Boccieri said. "I'm disappointed in how Renacci and Republicans framed this when, after all, it was their idea."
Indications are Republicans will continue to frame the message in the months leading up to the presidential election.
Renacci pointed to one of the lines in Roberts' decision.
Roberts wrote, "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices."
"Elections have consequences," Renacci said. When he ran for office two years ago, he got in the race because he did not agree with a big government "take-over," of which health care was a part. "The political choices made four years ago are having consequences today."
In November, the people will have a clear choice between bigger government or smaller government, both Gibbs and Renacci said.
"The court has spoken today, but in November there will be a chance for the people to speak."
Reporter Bobby Warren can be reached at 330-287-1639 or [email protected]. He is @BobbyWarrenTDR on Twitter. Marc Kovac, Dix capital bureau chief, contributed to this report.