WASHINGTON -- Obamacare may not be a dirty word anymore, despite Republicans still wanting to kill it even after the Supreme Court Thursday upheld President Barack Obama's historic health care law.
GOP opponent Mitt Romney has been vowing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and that was his main reaction after the 5-4 ruling. Much easier said than done.
The ruling obviously is a boost for Obama's re-election. However, it has also energized the opposition who may be more inclined now -- that the differences are starker in the wake of the high court decision -- to forget about the health care law Romney signed while Massachusetts governor.
Romney has a specific challenge -- tell people with more detail than he has so far just how more of the nation's uninsured could get coverage. And his plan faces a laugh-test: how would it plausibly get through a divided Congress? Even if Romney wins election this November, he could possibly face a GOP-controlled House and a Democratic-run Senate, just as it is now. Romney cannot erase Obamacare with a pen stroke.
The Obama team, with the ruling, gets a second chance to make a first impression.
The Tea Party movement dubbed the Obama law "Obamacare" from the get go, and with a massive campaign against the law that many knew little about, drove public opinion against it.
But something is happening along the way. People -- no matter their ideology -- are already getting benefits under the law Obama signed on March 23, 2010. While the Obama team may have flubbed selling "Obamacare" back then, they are now in a position to take back the name and use it with pride.
That's because a lot of the benefits are front loaded and the controversial provisions -- such as the individual mandate upheld by the court which calls for everyone to buy insurance -- don't kick in until 2014.
Right now -- today -- parents can keep kids up to 26 on their policies. People with pre-existing conditions are getting coverage. Some seniors are paying less for prescription medicines. People are entitled to get more preventative services without a co-pay. Come August, some people will start getting rebate checks of about $150 if the insurance carrier they use did not spend 80 percent of the premium on medical care.
The Obama team has a particular expertise in collecting the stories of people. Sometimes through the years I have thought the technique overused. But not with this one. People who are getting treatments and coverage they otherwise would not have -- and that includes peace of mind -- have stories to tell that transcend partisan politics.
Each of these stories -- whether by paid media, word-of-mouth or social networking -- is an ad for Obama.
The reality Romney faces is that it is impossible for Republicans to repeal and replace the Obama health care law before the election. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Thursday said he scheduled a vote to repeal "Obamacare" on July 11.
He may get a win in the House, but it will be blocked in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) said it was a waste of time. With the court win, Democrats have more security to be amenable to cross-aisle changes -- a far cry from repeal. As Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Ia.) put it Thursday, "I've often said that the Affordable Care Act is not like the Ten Commandments, chiseled in stone; it's like a starter home, suitable for improvement. So I call on Republicans to join us in making sensible refinements as we continue to implement the law. I invite the Republicans to bring their tool kits, not their sledgehammers."
Congress is already unpopular, and if the Republicans, with only 130 days before the election use the time left -- which is not much heading into summer breaks -- to relitigate health care from scratch rather than focus on jobs, they do it at their peril -- and Romney's.