06/11/2012 11:33 am ET

Mazie Hirono: Congress Should Take Up Health Care Reform Again If Supreme Court Strikes Law Down

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- If the Supreme Court strikes down health care reform, Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) believes Congress has a duty to take the issue back up again.

Speaking on a panel Friday at the 2012 Netroots Nation conference, which was moderated by this reporter, Hirono said Democrats in Congress did not convey the benefits of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act strongly enough during the debate over it in 2009. When asked whether it would be wise for Congress to reconsider the issue if the Supreme Court strikes down all or part of the law, Hirono replied, "I think that we need to."

"There are millions of people in our country who otherwise would be totally left bare -- 40 million people in our country without any kind of health care. So it's not an issue that is going to go away," she said. "I think we need the kind of focused leadership that will continue to bring this to the fore."

The Supreme Court is expected to release its decision this month on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement. The issue receiving the most attention is the constitutionality of the individual mandate, which requires people to purchase insurance or face a penalty. If the individual mandate is struck down, the court will decide whether that invalidates the entire law or whether the mandate can be severed from it, allowing the rest of the law to stand.

Hirono said she is hopeful that the Supreme Court will not issue a 5-4 decision, but that if it does, it will demonstrate "a political, ideologically motivated decision."

Netroots Nation is an annual gathering of progressive activists and bloggers from around the country. Also speaking on the panel with Hirono was Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren and Darcy Burner, a Democrat from Washington state who is running for the House of Representatives. Hirono is running for Senate in Hawaii.

Neither Warren nor Burner directly addressed the question of whether Congress should take up health care reform again if the court strikes it down, and what the plan should be moving forward.

Warren argued that supporters of the Affordable Care Act haven't argued for the law's benefits strongly enough.

"There's been plenty of attack and very little about what health care reforms are," said Warren. "This is our one big chance to bring health care costs under control. ... I think the first step is we need to be out there and make the case for the Affordable Care Act."

"When we talk about what's actually in the Affordable Care Act, people support it, and that's what we have to do," said Burner.

In an interview with The Huffington Post at the conference on Saturday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) expressed skepticism that Congress would do anything on health care reform again.

"Congress won't," said Brown. "There's no way -- the Republican answer on tort reform, selling across state lines and health savings accounts, which does either little or nothing to save money or increase coverage and reduce the number of uninsured. They've showed no interest in anything else. So I think if this is struck down that you're going to see terrible chaos in a lot of families. ... I can't imagine what's going to happen if they strike it down, except that people will be upset when they realize what this health care law really is."