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Posted at 7:22 AM ET, 02/ 1/2011

Health care: The issue that won't die (anytime soon)

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

A Florida judge on Monday struck down the entire health care law passed by Congress last year, a ruling that has -- again -- pushed the issue to the political forefront.

While the judge's ruling was not surprising -- he was appointed to the bench by then President Ronald Reagan -- it came less than a month after House Republicans voted to repeal President Obama's health care law.

In other words, the health care issue shows no signs of exiting the political arena. And with the 2012 presidential campaign starting in earnest, the fight over what the law means for the country is just beginning.

Reacting to the court's ruling Monday, Republican governors, senators, members of Congress and potential presidential candidates all joined in a giant chorus of approval.

"This ruling is a big victory for states' rights, the U.S. Constitution and market-based health care reform," said former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who had joined in the lawsuit.

"Obamacare was a mistake. However, we cannot leave this decision in the hands of judges alone," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), urging the Senate to follow the House and vote on repeal. (On the repeal front, four more GOP senators on Monday co-sponsored a bill to repeal the health care bill, meaning every single GOP senator is now on-board with repeal.)

Republicans, in short, don't want this issue to go away. And they appear to be getting their wish.

The ruling Monday isn't likely to change much. It's early in the legal process and, as the Post's Ezra Klein notes, it's a very broad decision that a higher court might have a hard time signing off on. (Three other decisions on health care lawsuits have been much more limited). But that doesn't mean the ruling is insignificant.

The health care law is currently on two tracks -- one political and one legal. The political one is the dominant one in the media, but the legal fight is the more viable opportunity for Republicans to actually get rid of the law and push the issue forward. Every legal opinion like this one (or like the one in Virginia), gives Republicans another chance to press forward.

As the courts take up the issue -- most agree it's on an expedited track for the U.S. Supreme Court -- the decisions handed down may not have much of a practical effect, but they will feed the political rhetoric. And with a heap of Republicans fighting over the conservative base in the 2012 presidential nominating contest, harping on health care may well be a winning strategy.

Democrats seem more than happy to engage, and President Obama gave a noteworthy nod to the repeal vote in his State of the Union address.

While the economy is almost certain to be the dominant issue of 2012, health care will be on the minds of many voters too. Whichever party can win the messaging war on those two issues will almost certainly claim the White House.

Report: Rehberg to challenge Tester: Roll Call reported late Monday that Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) will announce a challenge to Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) on Saturday.

Rehberg is the big-name GOP recruit in Montana, where Democrats hold both Senate seats and the governor is a Democrat. By running against Tester, he would be bypassing a run at the open governor's seat, which is also up in 2012.

Rehberg would start the race in a good position, according to a recent poll. The November poll, from Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling, showed the two in a statistical tie, with Rehberg at 48 percent and Tester at 46 percent.

Former lieutenant governor candidate Steve Daines is already in the race on the GOP side, but there is some thought that he may opt to run for Rehberg's House seat if the congressman runs for Senate.

RNC has $23 million in debt: The Republican National Committee reported Monday that it entered 2011 with nearly $21 million in debt, but the committee acknowledged additional debt tallied this month that brings it to a total of $23 million.

The committee had just $726,000 cash on hand, leaving it more than $20 million in the red.

Its Democratic counterpart, the Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, reported $16 million in debt and $6 million cash on hand, for a net of $10 million in the red.

The committees will play a key role in the presidential election in 2012, and RNC officials are acknowledging the steep financial disadvantage they are starting with.

Among the House committees, Democrats had $19 million in debt to start the year, while Republicans had $10.5 million in debt.

No SOTU bump for Obama: Obama did not get a bump in polls from his State of the Union speech, although his approval remains higher on average than it has been since last May, according to Gallup.

That isn't surprising: historically, State of the Union speeches do not net presidents much public affection. Bill Clinton was the exception: his 1998 address announcing a balanced budget resulted in a ten-point approval spike.

Obama's poll numbers have risen recently as optimism about America's future has increased; Republican numbers have also gotten a boost.

While Obama's State of the Union got a very positive response from viewers, the president offered few concrete plans that might fuel more general enthusiasm. Speech-watchers tend to be favorably inclined towards the president already. To some degree, Obama was preaching to the choir.

Whitman set self-funding record: Meg Whitman's (R) failed gubernatorial bid was record-breaking in at least one way -- the amount of cash she threw into it.

The former eBay CEO spent a whopping $178.5 million on her campaign, of which $144.2 million was from her own pocket, according to campaign finance reports filed Monday. That breaks down to $43.25 per vote she won.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) spent a mere $36.43 million. In his State of the State Monday night, he pushed for tax hikes to deal with California's budget crisis. Republican legislators appeared unmoved.

Fixbits

Vermont state Auditor Tom Salmon (R) said he's "65 percent" leaning towards running against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). If Salmon runs, he gives the GOP a big-name candidate for a lower-tier targeted race.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has set a February deadline for announcing whether he will seek reelection.

Early voting has begun in the Chicago mayor's race, where former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (D) is trying to avoid a runoff.

George W. Bush's daughter, Barbara, is backing gay marriage.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) raised a strong $537,000 over the last six weeks of 2010 and has $2 million in the bank for what looks like a difficult 2012.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has $2.5 million in the bank as he faces a potential primary challenge.

Must-reads

"Will Carney's Voice Carry?" -- Lloyd Grove, Daily Beast

"In tough 2012 Republican Senate primary, Adam Hasner may be one to watch" -- Adam C. Smith, St. Petersburg Times

"Lingle a threat to Akaka in 2012" -- Derrick DePledge, Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza  | February 1, 2011; 7:22 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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