POLITICS
06/26/2012 05:29 pm ET Updated Jun 26, 2012

Tom Harkin: Health Care Law Contingencies Are Set For Supreme Court Ruling

WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the Senate Health Committee says he is ready to go with contingency legislation if the Supreme Court throws out any or all of the Affordable Care Act.

The high court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the law Thursday, just before the Senate goes on recess for the July 4 break, but Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told reporters Tuesday that he will be prepared to answer whatever comes down.

"Depending on what the court does, we'll be ready when we come back," Harkin said. "We could then move rapidly to get something on the agenda, put something in the hopper."

"We have different proposed drafts for different contingencies," he added. While the court could still uphold the whole law, he said it is important to bring a proposal forward quickly to reassure the public if parts of the law are struck down.

"It's just getting in the mix right away so that the American people know that we have something, that if they [Senators] would move it, we could take care of whatever the Supreme Court didn't like."

Senate leaders have been declining to talk about the various potential scenarios, preferring to avoid hypothetical discussions.

Still, it remains far from clear that Democrats would actually do anything quickly to address an adverse ruling. Part of the problem is election-year politics. Should the court only throw out the mandate that requires all Americans to buy health insurance, leaving the rest of the law intact, Democrats would be faced with trying to fix or replace the least popular part of the law.

There has been little appetite among Democrats to wade back into the mandate debate, and replacing it could involve all sorts of unpalatable options -- making it unlikely they'd move ahead with Harkin's plans before the election. Also, the mandate does not go into effect until 2014, leaving some leeway.

On the other hand, if the court strikes down more popular provisions, such as consumer protections, Democrats might be happy to campaign on the issue, some Democrats said.

One leadership aide concurred with Harkin that Democrats would at least be prepared.

“We are confident the law will be upheld, but will be ready for whatever happens,” the aide said, speaking on background because of the leadership's stance on commenting.

Another Democratic aide later contacted HuffPost to cast doubt on Harkin's assessment, saying there is no contingency legislation ready to go. The aide insisted, however, that people were thinking very seriously about what might happen and how they might respond when the moment comes.

Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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