By Amie Parnes and Jonathan Easley - 06/28/12 04:43 PM EDT
Basking in an enormous political triumph, President Obama on Thursday hailed the Supreme Court’s ruling on the healthcare law as “a victory for people all over this country.”
Declaring that the “highest court in the land has now spoken,” Obama said the 5-4 decision by the high court reaffirmed a fundamental principle that “no illness or accident should lead to any family’s financial ruin.”
Speaking in the East Room a little more than two hours after the decision came down, Obama acknowledged talk about the decision will center on “who won and who lost,” but said that “completely misses the point."
While he conceded that the debate over the health law has been “divisive,” he reiterated once again that he didn’t pursue the law because it was “good politics.”
“I did it because I believed it was good for the country,” he said.
Obama strongly defended the mandate to have insurance, which the Supreme Court upheld under Congress' power to levy taxes, and jabbed at GOP rival Mitt Romney for signing a law as governor that included a similar requirement.
“People who can afford health insurance should take the responsibility to buy health insurance,” Obama said, noting the mandate had previously enjoyed support from both parties, “including the current Republican nominee for president.”
A few minutes before Obama spoke, Romney vowed to act to repeal the law as president, calling it a “job killer.”
“What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States,” Romney said in Washington while standing against a backdrop of the Capitol dome. “What the court did today was say that ObamaCare does not violate the constitution. What they did not do was say that ObamaCare is good law or that it’s good policy.”
“ObamaCare was bad policy yesterday. It’s bad policy today,” Romney added. “ObamaCare was bad law yesterday. It’s bad law today.”
The Obama campaign returned fire, accusing Romney of attacking a law that he helped set the model for as governor of Massachusetts.
“Romney has run away from his accomplishment in Massachusetts, callously promising to repeal national reform and 'kill it dead,' " Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement. “He owes the American people a clear, non-parsed explanation of why he believes his decisions in Massachusetts are wrong for the country, and exactly what he would do to help the American people get the healthcare they need.”
White House aides were careful not to spike the football, though they expressed confidence it would help propel Obama to a second term.
“We said it was constitutional and we were right,” one White House aide said. “That’s all there is.”
One former senior administration official added that the decision — which many believed was unlikely to go in their favor — is exactly what the Obama campaign needed as the president gears up for the fall campaign.
“This is exactly the boost of confidence that the president needs,” the former senior administration official said.
The former official predicted that the high court’s decision would “change the polling” about the law.
“This has always been about getting the independents, and I think if you’ve got John Roberts saying this is constitutional, that will provide a huge sustained gust of wind in the sails of the campaign,” the former official said.
As the decision came down Thursday, some White House staffers gathered in press secretary Jay Carney's office with the door closed in what aides quipped was their "war room." The press office was virtually deserted as people awaited word on the Supreme Court’s decision.
Obama had been scheduled to be in the Oval Office when the decision came down. But a few White House reporters were temporarily held near Carney's office as Obama apparently made his way from the residence to the West Wing.
It was unclear how Obama received the news of the ruling.
During his remarks, Obama vowed to work together to improve upon the law. But, even as the House threatened to repeal the law on Thursday, he said the nation can’t afford to “refight the political battles” from two years ago.
Instead, he urged lawmakers to focus on the economy, which he called, the “most urgent challenge of our time”
"It's time for us to move forward,” he said. "Today, I'm as confident as ever, that when we look back 5 years from now, or 10 years from now, or 20 years now, we'll be better off."