White House marks healthcare anniversary with caution, defiance

The second birthday of President Obama’s landmark legislative achievement, coming just three days before the Supreme Court begins oral arguments on its constitutionality, falls amid serious questions over whether it will have a third.

A ruling against the law this summer — a final decision from the court is expected in June — could dismantle Obama’s signature policy triumph. Either way the court comes down, it will have a major effect on the tenor of this fall’s presidential campaign, in which Obama will seek a second term.

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Republicans all week have gleefully poked fun at the White House’s discomfort over this year’s anniversary.

The White House isn’t holding any official celebrations for the law, and aides have said they’re not interested in faux milestones.

One note from Senate Republicans reminded reporters that the White House marked the six-month and one-year anniversaries of the law. It then linked to stories highlighting a statement from White House press secretary Jay Carney, who said he didn’t expect “a presidential marking of an anniversary that only those who toil inside the Beltway focus on.”

"Does the White House think that if they don't talk about the president's healthcare law, we won't?" Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), gibed in a message on Twitter on Thursday. "Great strategy."

Yet the tweaks from Republicans ignore the fact that Obama and the White Houe have acknowledged the anniversary, and belie the aggressive tack the president and his allies have taken in defending the law. Obama has touted the law time and again in recent stump speeches at campaign fundraisers around the country. And Michelle Obama recorded a YouTube video touting the healthcare law and encouraging supporters to highlight its benefits over the next week.

In an interview with Public Radio International that was released Thursday, Obama attacked his likely GOP opponent in the fall, Mitt Romney, on the subject of healthcare, an area that could be a weakness for the Republican front-runner.

Obama said the law Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts was a model for his federal law, and accused the Republican of “pretending" he came up with a different plan.

"We designed a program that actually previously had support of Republicans — including the person who may end up being the Republican standard-bearer and is now pretending like he came up with something different," Obama said.

The strong words likely foreshadow the arguments Obama would make in the fall against Romney, whose GOP rivals doubt he can make an effective case against the president on the issue.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has nearly as much at stake as Obama in the Supreme Court decision, as the healthcare law is both the president’s signature domestic accomplishment and her own as Speaker of the House.

On Thursday, she voiced confidence that the law meets constitutional muster.

"We knew that what we were doing when we passed this bill was iron-clad constitutionally," Pelosi said during an event in the Capitol staged by Democrats to mark the anniversary.

Pelosi appeared to acknowledge politics could play a role in the Supreme Court’s decision, saying: "What happens in the courts is another matter, but we believe that we're in pretty good shape.”

But she also said she has “faith in the courts and I have faith in the bill."

But Boehner — like many of his Republican colleagues — said Thursday the law "must be fully repealed."

"The White House has good reason to ignore this anniversary, but hardworking taxpayers can't avoid ObamaCare, which is raising costs, jeopardizing coverage, and making it harder for small businesses to hire new workers," Boehner said in a statement. "ObamaCare has already been proven unpopular and unaffordable, and my hope is that the law's cornerstone — the individual mandate — will be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court."

While Obama isn't expected to be making a vigorous defense of the law, a gentler reminder of the healthcare law’s anniversary came Thursday in an email to WhiteHouse.gov subscribers.

White House deputy chief of staff Nancy-Ann DeParle, who oversaw the healthcare legislation when it was created, linked to a video of a Colorado family that has benefited from the law, before ticking off a list of stats including the 54 million Americans with private insurance who have been able to access more preventive services and the 2.5 million Americans 26 and under who have access to their parents' insurance plans.

"Two years after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, life is a little better for millions of Americans from all over the country," DeParle says in the email.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Carney acknowledged the email and video are timed to the anniversary date. He added that it was "absurd" to suggest the White House was "running away from or not interested" in discussing the law.

"The president speaks about the Affordable Care Act and its importance to the American people frequently," Carney said. "I don't think a week goes by where he doesn’t include remarks about healthcare reform in some form or another."

Mike Lillis and Sam Baker contributed to this story.