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All Eyes in Washington on Supreme Court

The White House and Capitol Hill have in place their messaging machinery for the Supreme Court’s ruling today on President Barack Obama’s signature health care overhaul — affirming it, relegating it to the dustbin of history or somewhere in between.

Democrats are aware of the health care law’s polling numbers and plan to talk about the more popular individual pieces of the plan — regardless of whether the court strikes them.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday, “The fact is, the Affordable Care Act gives hardworking middle-class families the security they deserve, and we are confident that the law is constitutional,” adding, “We all will await the decision and learn of it at the same time that you do.”

Carney rattled off benefits already in effect, such as preventive care for seniors and allowing adults under age 26 to stay on their parents’ health care plans. Expect more of the same today, regardless of how the court rules, Democrats said.

“We are anticipating that the law will be upheld, but we will be ready for any scenario,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide said, with many Democrats waiting to take their cues from Obama. “I don’t think it will be that hard to get our Members to coalesce around talking about the most popular reforms.”

The aide said, however, that there hasn’t been as much war-gaming of the decision given the many possible outcomes. And while there is the possibility Democrats will push legislation to restore some reforms if they are struck down, doing so could be politically problematic, especially because everyone wants to focus on jobs and the economy.

If the law is upheld, the Democrats’ message is easier: It’s time to move on. “We will portray this as a case closed and finally seek to put the partisan arguments behind us so we can focus on issues related to jobs and the economy,” the aide said.

Senate Democrats already plan on bringing up the president’s small-business tax cut after the Independence Day recess.

Senate GOP aides dismiss any idea that Republicans will be on the hook for trying to restore pieces of the law, and they don’t expect Democrats will risk bringing anything health-care-related to the floor before the elections.

“It is their law that they jammed through on a party-line vote, no matter what the cost,” said Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for Senate Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

If the law is upheld, Republican leaders are expected to pivot to the position that the public will have to elect Mitt Romney and a stronger Republican Congress to repeal it.

Speaker John Boehner pulled no punches in outlining the importance of the Supreme Court’s ruling, telling the House Republican Conference at a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning that it is the top issue defining Obama’s first term.

“We’ve said all year that 2012 will be a referendum on President Obama’s policies, which have hurt the economy and made things worse. The president’s health care law is Exhibit A,” the Ohio Republican told the Conference, according to a source in the room. “Americans know it’s driving up health costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire. Regardless of how the court rules, the law is a huge issue for the American people, and it has to be repealed, completely.”

House Republicans are rolling out a two-pronged messaging response immediately after the ruling, focusing on how the health care law affects the economy and women in particular, a voting bloc instrumental to Romney’s chances. The party will be sending “surrogate squads” of doctors and women to message the issue.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), Romney’s liaison to House Republicans, will spearhead the latter, noting that women make 80 percent of family health care decisions.

Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.), a doctor and one of the GOP’s premier health care messengers, will emphasize that Republicans want to replace the law with small-bore alternatives that take government out of the equation.

Boehner announced at the Wednesday Conference meeting that the pair would sit in on the court’s decision and hold a press conference immediately after the announcement.

Adding an interesting dynamic to the matter: Both are eyeing the Republican Conference chairmanship in the next Congress.

Still, any repeal legislation, if Republicans deem it necessary, will not likely be on the floor until the week of July 9 at the earliest, and GOP leaders are still assessing whether to offer any replacement measures before the November elections.

House Democrats seem ready to vilify the Supreme Court if the decision does not go their way. Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra told reporters that a 5-4 decision would be the worst outcome.

“I think that will go, unfortunately, a long way in confirming this growing belief in the gut of the American people that the Supreme Court no longer cares so much about the Constitution; it cares more about politics,” the Californian said.

Progressive Democrats will push an expansion of Medicare, which would resemble a single-payer system, aides said.

“Unless they overturn the whole thing, which no one’s expecting, we’re still going to point out that the heart of the law is in place,” said one aide to a progressive Member. “If the mandate is overturned, we’re going to say that ‘Medicare for all’ will finish the job.”

But it could be years before Congress is willing to take another big bite of the health care apple, given how politically difficult it has been for Democrats.

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