The ruling allows Mr. Obama to engage in a four-month-long victory lap as he campaigns for re-election. And it validates the president’s decision to devote so much time and energy to passing the law in 2009 while the economy was in free fall, a divisive vote that contributed to Democrats losing the House in 2010.
Democrats didn’t try to hide their “I-told-you-so” reaction to the decision, although Mr. Obama and some others did try to downplay the political benefits.
“I know there will be a lot of discussion today about the politics of all this — about who won and who lost,” Mr. Obama said, adding that such talk “completely misses the point” of the law’s benefits.
Rep. Steve Israel, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign committee, said the ruling “isn’t a political victory for Democrats, it’s a victory for America’s middle class and seniors, and now House Republicans need to drop their partisan obstruction and move on.”
But Republicans also saw political opportunity in the ruling.
“It will be a short-lived celebration in the White House,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “Obama now goes into the fall campaign defending a law that most Americans think will increase their health care costs, their premiums, their taxes and the deficit. He also has to defend raising taxes on all Americans, which he pledged not to do.”
Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican and a member of the tea party caucus, said Mr. Obama’s victory will be “fleeting” and argued that most Americans didn’t like the law’s individual mandate in the first place.
“They’ll like it even less when they understand it’s a tax,” Mr. Lee said on Fox News.
Mr. Obama and his rival, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, engaged in dueling news conferences within two hours of the high court’s decision. The Republican trumped the president by giving his televised statement nearly a half-hour before the president spoke at the White House.
“Obamacare was bad policy yesterday, and it’s bad policy today,” said Mr. Romney, who pledged to repeal it if he’s elected.
Still, the court’s decision was a big win for Mr. Obama, who spoke Thursday of the “courage” behind the legislation and had been citing the law at campaign rallies as the major achievement of his presidency. If the justices had overturned the law or key portions of it, Mr. Obama would have been portrayed as having wasted his term on a demonstrably failed policy.
The president even joked about that possibility this spring, commenting at the White House Correspondents’ annual dinner, “In my first term, we passed health care reform; in my second term, I guess I’ll pass it again.”
Democratic strategists now are feeling emboldened that the Supreme Court and conservative Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has aided Mr. Obama’s agenda.
“The late decisions by the Supreme Court this summer leaves the GOP’s agenda in tatters,” said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a think tank in Washington. “Their efforts to overturn two administration efforts — immigration and health care reform — have failed. Obama comes out of this week much stronger, the Republicans weaker. His first term will now be seen as consequential, their opposition feckless.”