Health-Care Verdict: Questions for Obama and Romney

How the presidential candidates react to Thursday's ruling will set the tone for the coming debate over health care.

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The Supreme Court's decision issued Thursday to uphold the Affordable Care Act was, oddly enough, thought to be the best possible outcome for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney alike. For Obama, it's vindication for his signature policy accomplishment -- by a conservative court, no less; for Romney, it keeps in play his No. 1 argument to many conservatives -- "if you want to get rid of Obamacare, you've got to elect me."

It's still an open question, though, how the candidates will respond to the court's decision. Both were expected to speak in Washington Thursday. Here are a few questions we have for them:

For Obama:

1. Will he gloat? The temptation to take a victory lap will surely be strong for the White House. (As Patrick Gaspard, the executive director of the Democratic National Committee, put it on Twitter shortly after the ruling: "It's constitutional. Bitches.") But the law remains unpopular and poorly understood; too jubilant a response from the president could irritate those still leery of the legislation.

2. Will he throw it back on Romney? Obama has a choice -- go statesmanlike, or go political. The high road is nice, but it doesn't necessarily score you any points against your opponent. Will the president take the opportunity to call out Romney for his past support of health-care mandates -- in Massachusetts and nationally -- and/or press him on his plans for an alternative?

3. Will he praise the court? This is the same conservative Supreme Court that issued the Citizens United decision, and Obama has been no fan of it in the past.

For Romney:

1. Will he embrace the "it's a tax" talking point? Conservatives were quick to take the court's reasoning -- that the mandate is constitutional as a tax, but not under the Commerce Clause -- as a cue to argue that Obamacare constitutes raising your taxes. (Sarah Palin on Twitter, exhibiting her usual rhetorical subtlety: "Obama lied to the American people. Again. He said it wasn't a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.") Whether this makes sense, considering that the penalty in question only has to be paid by those who don't opt to buy health insurance, is debatable.

2. Will he take a position on the court decision? Romney has previously said he believes the law to be unconstitutional, a view he expected would put him on the right rather than the wrong end of the Court decision. In his statements anticipating the ruling in recent days, that talking point has been missing. Will Romney dodge the question of whether he agrees with the Court -- as he did on Monday's immigration ruling -- in favor of focusing on the policy issue instead?

3. Will he explain how he'd repeal the law? It was hard enough for Obama to pass the ACA with 60 votes in the Senate and a majority in the House. Now that it's in Republican hands, the House has voted to repeal the law -- to no avail, as the move has stalled in the Democratic Senate. Given that some parts of the law have more popular support than others, Romney should be pressed to explain which parts of it he'd keep and which he'd repeal, and how he'd get Congress to do his bidding.

Read The Atlantic's full coverage of the Supreme Court's health-care decision.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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