Nadler defends health care against a ‘radical’ Supreme Court and a street-level prophet

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Jerry Nadler at Foley Square. (Dan Rosenblum)
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As the Supreme Court hears arguments on Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, Representative Jerry Nadler said he feared what would become of the health care bill in the hands of a “radical and unpredictable” group of justices. 
Though most provisions of the law don’t go into effect until 2014, Nadler said the ones that became operative have already improved the health care system.

“Unfortunately that law has been consistently subject to a nasty and partisan assault by right-wing extremists in effort to smear and discredit Obama and the Democrats and to call into question the principle that all Americans deserve quality and affordable health care,” Nadler told reporters, at a press conference in Foley Square.

Beginning today and lasting through Wednesday, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the bill, which is being challenged by 28 states. The court's decision, expected over the summer, will have a massive impact on health care, and possibly on the presidential and congressional elections.

Nadler, a liberal Democrat, said that if the court found the law unconstitutional on the grounds that the federal government can't mandate that individuals purchase health care, it “would be reversing 75 years of precedent and jurisprudence and much of the body of law could not be constitutional. How do you say to somebody you must pay for Social Security, whether you like it or not? It’s the exact same question.”

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He said he also wondered about Medicaid and federal education aid if the court struck down the health care law.

“Frankly, if we didn’t have a radical and unpredictable Supreme Court at the moment, this wouldn’t be a close question," Nadler said. "The law school professors laughed at it when it was first brought up.”

A reporter asked whether he expected the court to find the law unconstitutional.

”Do I fear it? Yes,” Nadler said. “Do I expect it? No. I fear it because we’ve got some radical justices who’ve shown that they’re completely willing to completely upset precedent.”

As Nadler spoke at the congested plaza, cars honked and construction echoed from a nearby federal building. The steps of the Thurgood Marshall Federal Courthouse, where the press conference was planned, were closed because of renovations (made possible, coincidentally, by federal stimulus funds).

Bystanders filtered through, including one man in a black suit and striped tie who stopped to listen. 

Nadler said he didn’t understand conservative opponents to health care mandates, particularly because the ideas behind the bill were originally the province of the conservative thinkers at the Heritage Foundation, and Newt Gingrich, and, once upon a time, former governor Mitt Romney.

“One of the problems Mitt Romney has as a candidate for president is a time-warp,” Nadler said. “He did a conservative, basically Republican approach and people thought it was a conservative, basically Republican approach. Now they think it’s a socialist approach, but it’s the same approach.”

At that, the man in the black suit criticized the congressman.

“Yes, sir, but he paid for it,” he yelled.

“This will be paid for,” Nadler said.

“Really?” the bystander asked. “With a trillion dollars of debt?”

Nadler began to cite a Congressional Budget Office report saying the bill would actually cut the budget deficit.

“You’re speaking to an echo chamber,” the man yelled, before walking off. “Good luck. You’re gonna lose.”

“Any other questions?” Nadler said to the reporters. “Besides Nostradamus over here?”