When former U.S. Rep. John Spratt cast his vote in support of health care reform, he knew it was a vote he would always remember for being significant.
On Thursday, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled constitutional most of the law, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Spratt declared it a “big victory” for health care.
“When we look back on this law 10 to 25 years from now, I think we’ll rank it with Medicare as a giant landmark” piece of legislation, he said.
A York attorney who served South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District for 28 years, Spratt was chairman of the House budget committee when the bill hit the House floor for a vote. He also sponsored key related legislation.
In 2010, Spratt lost to Mick Mulvaney, a tea party-backed Republican from Indian Land who served single terms in the S.C. House and Senate before running for Congress.
On Thursday, Spratt was mulling the significance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in upholding most of the law, which cleared its first “major hurdle.”
“There are still hurdles ahead,” he said.
One of his concerns relates to the court’s striking down as unconstitutional a provision that would have expanded Medicaid to millions more low-income recipients.
That decision will likely leave a “substantial” amount of people still without health care, he said.
Spratt said the law is “full of ideas for saving money” but implementing them will mean more deliberation, more legislation and, possibly, more court rulings.
Thursday’s ruling also will invigorate the law’s opponents, who “will probably redouble their efforts to defeat Obama as the single best way to get the bill defeated.” he said.
That opposition was already mounting as Spratt spoke.
Mulvaney, an opponent of the health care bill, issued a statement saying it was a “truly a sad day.”
“The Supreme Court’s precedent in this case will far exceed health care. In short, government is now able to make you do anything by penalizing you with a tax,” Mulvaney said, saying the government could even tax marriage if it so chooses.
“You can’t do things like that that people are opposed to,” Spratt countered, arguing that the individual mandate isn’t expanding government’s power when people have been paying Medicare, Social Security and federal payroll taxes for some time.
Spratt recalled a difficult fight involving health care, and admitted his role in supporting reform hurt him in his 2010 re-election efforts.
“My staff, who took quite a few telephone calls, kept telling me this issue is controversial and we’re losing support. We’re not gaining support.”
Spratt said if he had it to consider the health care vote all over again, he’d change some things about his approach, namely his strategy for informing the public about the bill’s tax credits and benefits, which still many don’t know or “fully appreciate,” he said.
Opponents of the health care law, including Mulvaney, have said Democrats who supported it didn’t even read it.
Spratt said lawmakers put forth more effort on educating each other on the health care law than most bills. He recalled intensive seminars learning about the bill’s contents from its various authors, going through the document “page by page” gleaning insights.
But where he and other supporters of the bill fell short was in passing on that information to voters.
“I don’t think we did a good job of getting the message out,” he said.
Regardless of the law’s impact, the Supreme Court ruling does provide some vindication for Democrats and Spratt, said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political scientist.
“In a broad sense, it validates a little bit that they were not arguing for something unconstitutional,” Huffmon said.
But the impact of the health care law on Spratt’s legacy – from Spratt’s three decades of service to the district – won’t be seen for years to come, when the law’s real impacts become evident.
When asked whether he regrets supporting health care reform – especially after losing the 2010 election in part because of it – Spratt said without hesitation, “Not at all. I’m pleased I voted that way. I think it still will work.”
With government already providing so much health care coverage, “This bill completes the puzzle.”