By Meghashyam Mali and Amie Parnes - 07/01/12 01:43 PM EDT
White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew touted the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the president’s healthcare reform bill Sunday and warned Republicans to “move on” and drop efforts to undo the legislation.
“I don’t think the American people want to have this debate again,” said Lew about GOP efforts to repeal the health bill on “Fox News Sunday.” “I don’t think they want to be pulled back into decades of debate to get to where we are. We now have a law, the law is constitutional, we should implement it.”
The House is expected to vote on July 11 after returning from recess on repealing the law. Past repeal votes though have failed to garner support in the Democratic-led Senate.
Lew on Sunday said the administration was open to improving the healthcare law, but that efforts at full repeal were a waste of time.
“The president has said on many occasions that he wants to work across party lines and there are things that can be done to improve the law,” he said. “Those are the conversations we should be having and we need to move on and deal with the economy and jobs. We need to put our efforts on creating opportunities for Americans to be employed.”
Both sides are hopeful the court decision will help rally their supporters ahead of a tough November general election. Obama campaign officials are pushing Democrats to tout the healthcare bill as an example of the administration’s efforts to aid middle and working class families. Republicans, however, are seeking to use the court’s decision upholding the individual mandate under Congress’s taxing powers to paint the provision as a tax hike on families.
Lew on Sunday pushed back on GOP claims that the health bill’s individual mandate is a tax and said the overwhelming majority of Americans would be able to easily comply with the provision.
“The only thing in this bill that puts a burden on individuals to pay more is a penalty for those who can afford insurance and chose not to buy it. And to be clear that’s one percent of the population. In Massachusetts where this was tested in the plan that Gov. Romney put into place, one percent of the population ended up paying the penalty,” Lew said.
“For the other 99 percent what it means is security. They and their family get coverage, it means benefits that they get will offer better coverage and it means they don’t have to worry that if somebody gets sick they’re going to lose their health insurance,” he added.
Lew said that the court’s decision did not characterize the mandate as a tax. “What the Supreme Court said was this was constitutional. It didn’t matter what Congress called it.”
“Technically, what they said was the Congress has many powers, there’s a Commerce Clause, there’s taxing powers and it was constitutional,” he added.
During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” as on the other Sunday shows, Lew continued to insist that the law was not a tax.
"What is in the law is a penalty," Lew said. "For Americans who buy health insurance, who can't afford it and get it through a government program, there is no penalty. That covers 99 percent of the American people.”
When Lew was pushed to define the law as a tax, he replied, "The court found it constitutional... Frankly, what you call it is not the issue."
"We call it fair," Lew said after host George Stephanopoulos tried to get him to acknowledge that the court defined it as a tax.
"Let's be clear about who that one percent is, those are people who can afford health insurance, choose not to buy it and then when they get sick, they go to the hospital and the cost gets spread amongst all the people who are paying for insurance," said Lew.
This story was updated at 12:40 p.m.