* Top officials have cited options in the past
* Analysts see vulnerabilities for Obama's base
* Any action unlikely until after November vote
(Adds quotes, details and background)
By David Morgan and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, March 28 The White House said on
Wednesday that it was not working on contingency plans for
President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, in the event
that the Supreme Court struck down all or part of the sweeping
After three days of landmark Supreme Court hearings that
raised doubts about the law's fate, White House spokesman Josh
Earnest said the administration remains confident that the 2010
reform measure would be upheld when justices issue their ruling
toward the end of June.
"There is no contingency plan that's in place. We're focused
on implementing the law," Earnest told reporters. "If there's a
reason or a need for us to consider some contingencies down the
line, then we'll do it then."
A negative ruling from the court would be seen as a major
blow to Obama in the middle of an election year, when
Republicans are demanding the repeal of the Patient Protection
and Affordable Care Act.
Obama's re-election prospects already face substantial
challenges. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that two-thirds of
Americans, including a majority of Democrats, disapprove of his
performance on another big issue: high gas prices.
The healthcare law and its unpopular individual mandate,
which requires most Americans to have health coverage beginning
in 2014, came under sharp scrutiny from the high court's five
Doubts about its future deepened with tough courtroom
questioning about whether the mandate exceeds the government's
Reform advocates contend that the mandate is vital to the
law's main objective of extending healthcare coverage to more
than 30 million uninsured Americans.
"VARIETY OF STRATEGIES"
Administration officials have spoken openly about possible
contingencies in the past.
At a Reuters Health Summit last May, Health and Human
Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said there would be a
number of ways to expand health coverage if the mandate were
"There are all kinds of sign-up possibilities, auto
enrollment and a variety of strategies," she said.
But analysts say the week's proceedings may have left Obama
in too fragile a position to speak publicly about contingencies.
The White House could undermine his political base by openly
preparing for defeat, particularly on the mandate, which is
interwoven with popular consumer protections including a measure
guaranteeing healthcare access for people with pre-existing
"They can't risk having the president look like he's
folding, or giving up, or anything like that," said Joseph Antos
of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
If the court struck down the law or its main provisions,
analysts say the White House would likely postpone any decision
on how to move forward until after the Nov. 6 general election.
They add that the loss of the mandate alone could leave the
healthcare law at the mercy of congressional gridlock months
after the election and raise doubts about the administration's
ability to usher key reforms into place by a Jan. 1, 2014,
(Editing by Xavier Briand)