Obamacare win cements part of Obama legacy

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama was one pleased lame duck on Thursday, declaring “the Affordable Care Act is here to stay” after the Supreme Court upheld a key provision of his signature health insurance law.

“What we’re not going to do is unravel what has now been woven into the fabric of America,” Obama said after the 6-3 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

“And my greatest hope is that rather than keep re-fighting battles that have been settled again and again and again, I can work with Republicans and Democrats to move forward,” he said.

Last week, a story about Obama’s legacy after almost two terms would have been downbeat.

In the wake of the massacre in an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, the problems of race and gun ownership seemed as intractable as they were when Obama took office in January 2009.

That’s despite executive orders, White House initiatives and attempts to push legislation through Congress in the wake of horrific slaughters and racial incidents. Obama and first lady Michelle will travel to Charleston on Friday for the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was the lead pastor at Emanuel AME Church and a state senator. He was gunned down along with eight others.

But this week shows why it is premature to jump to conclusions about the Obama presidency.

OPINION

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Any day now, Obama is going to be able to claim another major agenda legacy item as he gets closer to clinching the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. The deal stalled a few weeks ago in Congress, opposed by Democrats and Democratic-allied labor unions, only to be revived this week.

And depending what the Supreme Court may do on gay marriage between now and when it wraps up at the end of the month, Obama could notch another domestic policy legacy victory.

When it comes to legacy, the man in the frying pan is Roberts. Conservative groups are steaming now that Roberts, for the second time, sided with and saved Obama in upholding his landmark health insurance law.

The American Conservative Union said in a statement aimed at Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, conservatives who agreed with the four Democratic Supreme Court appointees, that they “disgraced their office, sprayed graffiti on the Constitution.”

The group added, “those of us who labored to get John Roberts confirmed is owed an apology.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said the Supreme Court’s “Obamacare acrobatics should dispel for good the comforting illusion that we can rely on judges to save us.”

The “us,” I am guessing, are folks who don’t like Obama and his programs.

Some ironies worth noting for the historic record: If Mayor Rahm Emanuel had his way when he was Obama’s first chief of staff, the president would not have even tried to pass the controversial health care legislation.

But Obama pushed it through Congress with only Democratic votes and signed it into law in 2010.

Another irony is why Illinois, in particular, had a lot at stake in this Supreme Court ruling, which upheld the ability of the federal government to grant subsidies to people buying insurance through a federal, not state, insurance exchange.

One would think, incorrectly it turned out, that after Obamacare was the law, the Illinois General Assembly back in the day would have rushed to pass the legislation needed to establish the required state-run insurance exchange.

Democrats controlled both chambers in Springfield and former Gov. Pat Quinn was a Democrat and ardent Obamacare supporter. For reasons having more to do with divisions among Illinois Democrats and the special interests supporting them, the Illinois General Assembly never sent Quinn a bill to sign.

Even though this was not ideologically based — the Illinois Democrats in Springfield never, ever dished out the strident anti-Obamacare rhetoric we have seen through the years from the right — Illinois was left with no authority to set up the insurance exchanges.

In the alternative, Quinn won a waiver for Illinois from the Department of Health and Human Services that gave him the option to create an exchange in partnership with the federal government. One that the Supreme Court allowed to survive.

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

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