Washington Extra – Question of Constitution

December 13, 2010

Constitutional or unconstitutional? That is the question the U.S. Supreme Court eventually may get to decide on President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare law.

(By one definition, constitution can also refer to one’s health — just throwing that in.) 

A judge in Virginia declared unconstitutional a provision that requires individuals to buy health insurance or face a fine, backing arguments by the state that Congress exceeded its authority. USA-COURT/KAGAN

The White House begged to differ. 
“We disagree with the ruling,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
“We’re confident that it is constitutional,” he said.

If it does go to the highest court in the land, there are 4 liberals (Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan), 4 conservatives (Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas) and one moderate conservative (Justice Anthony Kennedy) who often controls the outcome.

My colleague Jim Vicini, who covers the Supreme Court, points out that the healthcare law issue which involves the power of Congress and interstate commerce may not fit strict conservative/liberal lines, so it would not be easy to predict the outcome if it comes to that.

Much is being made today of House Speaker-to-be John Boehner’s propensity for crying in public, but if Obama ends up with an adverse ruling on his cornerstone issue, healthcare, the president would actually have something to cry about.

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

Julian Assange versus the world

In this year’s iteration of Hollywood’s computer-hacker fascination, the hero of “Inception” manipulates dreams. Dream-hacking is probably beyond the capabilities of Julian Assange. But the 39-year-old Australian-born programmer, relatively unknown until this year, has masterfully manipulated elite media outlets. He has exasperated and humiliated the government and its diplomatic partners by creating a resilient, hard-to-kill worldwide network of websites that reveals their secrets. And he has in short order turned WikiLeaks and himself into household names, demonstrating how reality can be stranger than Hollywood fiction.

For more of this special report by Mark Hosenball, read here.

US judge rejects key part of Obama healthcare law

A judge in Virginia declared unconstitutional a key part of President Obama’s landmark healthcare law in the first major setback on an issue that will likely end up at the Supreme Court. He backed arguments by the state of Virginia that Congress exceeded its authority by requiring that individuals buy health insurance by 2014 or face a fine. “The Minimum Essential Coverage Provision is neither within the letter nor the spirit of the Constitution,” he wrote in a 42-page decision. However, he declined to invalidate the entire healthcare law, a small victory for Obama.

For more of this story by Jeremy Pelofsky and Lisa Lambert, read here.

US tax deal seen passing despite cost concerns

President Obama’s bipartisan tax plan headed toward its first test in Congress as a major Wall Street firm warned that the damage to America’s strained finances would outweigh any short-term economic boost. The $858 billion package, which would keep lowered income-tax rates from expiring at the end of the year, was expected to clear a procedural vote that starts around 3 p.m. “I think we’ll pass a bill, as opposed to simply not passing anything,” House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said at a news conference. He said he aimed to get a bill to Obama by the end of the week.

For more of this story by Andy Sullivan and Kim Dixon, read here.

Senators push for China currency bill

Two senators launched a last-ditch effort to get the Senate to vote on a bill to pressure China to raise the value of its currency, a move that would rankle Beijing ahead of top-level talks. Senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Olympia Snowe, a Republican, want to offer a currency bill already passed by the House of Representatives as an amendment to a high-priority Senate bill to extend expiring tax breaks. “Addressing Chinese currency manipulation is vital to getting our economy back on track, which is why the Senate should act quickly,” Brown said in a joint statement with Snowe.

For more of this story by Doug Palmer, read here.

US high court won’t decide Costco-Swatch case

The Supreme Court said it deadlocked by a 4-4 vote and will not decide a copyright infringement case involving Costco Wholesale Corp over reselling luxury imported Swiss-made watches produced by a Swatch Group unit. The deadlock means the justices automatically affirmed an appeals court ruling that Swatch’s Omega unit retained the rights to watches it made and sold abroad that later were imported into this country. The Supreme Court’s action was not a ruling on the merits and does not set a national precedent, but it does resolve x one of the court’s more important business cases in Omega’s favor.

For more of this story by James Vicini, read here.

Decision day for Republican chief Michael Steele

Republican Party chief Michael Steele, who has faced criticism despite Republican election victories, planned to announce whether he would seek to lead the party through the 2012 elections. Many Republican officials believed Steele had decided not to run for a new two-year term as head of the party but the unpredictable Steele may surprise them.

For more of this story by Steve Holland, read here.

Senator seeks to cut ethanol credit to 36 cents

Senator Dianne Feinstein will offer an amendment to a massive tax bill to cut the ethanol tax credit and import tariff to 36 cents a gallon, a congressional source told Reuters.

For more of this story by Tom Doggett and Charles Abbott, read here.

What we are blogging…

Obama spared bedroom banishment by signing hungry kids law

President Obama escaped banishment from the marital bedroom by signing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, delivering on an issue that his wife has fought hard to advance. “Not only am I very proud of the bill, but had I not been able to get this passed, I would be sleeping on the couch,” Obama joked at the signing ceremony at the Harriet Tubman Elementary School, offering a rare, if humorously intended, glimpse of the presidential marriage.

For Alister Bull’s full post, read here.

O’Donnell’s ‘witch’ captures spirit of times

Tea Party darling Christine O’Donnell may have lost the Delaware Senate race, but she heads the list when it comes to expressing the spirit of the times. “I’m not a witch,” her famous TV ad declaration that preceded the demise of her campaign, tops Yale University’s annual list of most notable quotes for 2010. O’Donnell ties with former BP CEO Tony Hayward’s lament to reporters: “I’d like my life back.”

For David Morgan’s full post, read here.

 From elsewhere 

Modern Etiquette: How to survive the office party

The Mad Men-esque days of over-the-top office parties where co-workers got roaring drunk, and ended up wearing lampshades are out of style. Fortunately for everyone, the office party has matured, by and large, into a more relaxed event where workers can actually socialize and enjoy the holidays without thinking about deadlines, or getting hit on by Bob from marketing.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Supreme Court on Oct. 1)

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