WASHINGTON (AP) - Buoyed by a federal court ruling, Senate Republicans maneuvered for a vote to repeal the year-old health care law on Tuesday while the party's potential White House contenders took turns urging them on.
Despite the stepped up attack, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the legislation was secure. "It's not going to go anywhere," predicted the Nevada Democrat.
The Republican-controlled House voted last month to repeal the law. A showdown vote is possible as early as Wednesday in the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority and the bill's opponents far short of the 60 that would be needed to clear it.
Despite the certainty of defeat, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell noted Republicans had "pledged to the American people" in last fall's campaign they would attempt to repeal the law. To fulfill that pledge, McConnell took virtually the first opportunity available to him in the new Congress.
The maneuvering unfolded one day after U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled the law was unconstitutional, saying Congress lacked the power to impose penalties as a way of enforcing a requirement for millions to purchase health insurance.
Vinson's was the second federal court ruling in recent months that was adverse to the law, which has also been upheld in two other decisions. The final verdict is expected from the Supreme Court.
For the present, though, the law is a favorite target of Republicans running for president or serving in Congress.
"An individual health care mandate is an unconstitutional power grab by the federal government and drags our health care system in the wrong direction," said former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a likely presidential candidate. He called Vinson's ruling "a big victory for states' rights, the U.S. Constitution and market-based health care reform."
"For those of us who have been opposed to Obamacare all along, it's nice to see the courts upholding the Constitution," said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota also praised the ruling: "I will continue to work with my colleagues to see that the Senate has a vote on repealing this harmful bill and start working on a replacement immediately."
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour used the ruling to ding Washington, which is held in generally low regard.
"As surprised as some people in Washington may be by the court's ruling that the power of the federal government is limited, I am pleased to learn the Constitution still means what the framers intended," Barbour said.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., said: "We are a federalist system. We don't need a federal government imposing one-size-fits-all plan on the entire nation."
Romney signed legislation while governor that required all citizens of the state to obtain insurance, and while he points to differences between that law and the one Obama won from Congress, it looms as a potential handicap as he seeks support from primary voters in 2012.
Campaigning in New Hampshire, which traditionally holds the first-in-the-nation primary, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania warned that the Obama administration was rushing to implement the plan even as the courts weigh the law's future. He said it reflects "tremendous hubris" but added that the effort is consistent with how the law was rammed through Congress.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also eyeing a presidential campaign, called the court ruling a good first step and said, "We must let Congress finish the job by repealing the flawed legislation and replacing it with reform that allows for affordable coverage for all Americans."
McConnell said he would be glad to oblige. He told reporters that all 47 members of his rank and file will vote to erase the law.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who defeated a Democratic incumbent last fall to win his seat, said, "Exhibit A of large government, out-of-control government, intrusive government is the health care bill."
The latest Associated Press-GfK poll found opinion divided on the law, with 41 percent opposed to it and 40 percent in favor.
As it passed Congress, the law would extend coverage to more than 30 million individuals who now lack it, crack down on insurance industry abuses and reduce federal deficits, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Ironically, the element of the law that angers conservatives the most - the requirement for all Americans to purchase coverage - started out as a Republican idea when the issue came before Congress in the 1990s.