White House Tries to Rebrand Mandate

Earnest Calls Government Mandate 'Personal Responsibility Clause'

March 28, 2012

The Obama administration is now referring to Obamacare as a "bi-partisan bill" and calling the unpopular individual mandate "a Republican idea," following three days of tough questioning by the Supreme Court.

"The Affordable Care Act is a bipartisan plan and one that we think is constitutional," Deputy White House press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

No Republican voted for the Affordable Care Act on final passage.

He also referred to the individual mandate as the "individual responsibility" clause of the bill, in an attempt to distance the administration from the term individual mandate.

"The administration remains confident that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional; one of the reasons for that is that the original personal responsibility clause…was a conservative idea," he said.

Conservatives have blasted the administration for the individual mandate and only one Republican voted for Obamacare in both houses of the legislature.

Earnest deflected questions about the future of the law and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli. Many analysts have said that the court is likely to overturn Obama’s signature law after conservative members of the court, as well as Obama appointee Justice Sonia Sotomayor, bombarded Verilli with blistering questions over the mandate.

"There have been lower court cases where conservative judges have posed difficult, tough questions to Department of Justice lawyers … and conservative judges, who posed tough questions ended up upholding the Affordable Care Act," he said.

Some also questioned the Verrilli’s performance, as he stumbled and coughed at times in defending the bill on Tuesday. Earnest defended the attorney.

"He’s one of the brightest legal minds in Washington, D.C.," he said. "He gave a very solid performance before the Supreme Court, that’s just a fact."

The spokesman did not know if President Obama had listened to trial transcripts, as he was flying back from Seoul, South Korea. He repeatedly said that the administration is not preparing contingency plans if Obamacare is struck down.

"We are focused on implementing all of the provisions of the law because they are important benefits," he said, adding "we’re not, no," when reporters asked again if alternative strategies are being considered.

"If there’s a reason or a need to consider contingencies down the line, then we will."

The Heritage Foundation has been credited with introducing the concept of the individual mandate during the debate over Hillary Clinton’s healthcare reform almost 20 years ago, but has since come to oppose it. It is not the only group that has changed sides on the issue: Obama slammed then-rival Hillary Clinton over the mandate on the campaign trail.

"We still don’t know how Sen. Clinton intends to enforce a mandate … you can have a situation, which we are seeing right now in the state of Massachusetts, where people are being fined for not having purchased health care but choose to accept the fine because they still can’t afford it, even with the subsidies," Obama said. "They are then worse off: They then have no health care, and are paying a fine above and beyond that."

The mandate helped Obama win favor among the healthcare industry, which donated $2.3 million to his 2008 campaign. His fundraising among the healthcare industry has not slowed in 2012, with Obama raking in more than $360,000 from drug makers.

The Supreme Court finished its final day of hearings concerning Obamacare today, with arguments focused on whether a rejection of the individual mandate would invalidate the entire law.

The court is expected to issue a ruling in June.