Democratic Senate nominee Bob Kerrey said Thursday Congress needs to move now to "true cost containment" health care measures while Republican nominee Deb Fischer called for repeal of the health care reform law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Now that the court spectacle is over, it's time for Republicans and Democrats to put partisan politics aside and get down to business to find true cost containment solutions before we bankrupt the country," Kerrey said in a written statement.

"I for one am confident I can work with Republicans to find common-sense solutions that begin with establishing state-based exchanges and supporting exciting initiatives by providers to lower costs and improve quality."

Fischer said she would support "the full repeal of ObamaCare" if she is elected to the Senate this November.

"We can reduce health care costs in America by promoting more competition between insurance companies, enacting medical malpractice reform, updating information technology and embracing preventive care," Fischer said in a statement issued immediately after the ruling.

"In the Senate, I will work across party lines to implement free market reforms that will lower health care costs and improve accessibility for the uninsured."

Fischer said: "ObamaCare is an attempted government takeover of our health care system that is burdening American families and small businesses with crushing taxes and regulations."

In a later telephone interview, Fischer said the ruling upholding the mandate for individual insurance coverage makes it clear that the law has imposed a tax increase along with new regulations.

"There was quite a bit of focus on this Senate race anyway," she said, "but I think this ruling has just heightened that (because) there is a stark contrast between Bob Kerrey and me on this issue."

In a mid-afternoon conference call, Kerrey said there is "an urgency now to get started to establish a Nebraska insurance exchange as quickly as possible."

"That is a market-oriented idea that takes power away from the federal government," he said.

Looking ahead, Kerrey said Congress needs to forge a bipartisan agreement to reform Medicare to secure its future, and he is prepared to work with Senate Republicans to do that.

Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson hailed the court's decision as "a turning point in America" that will improve the quality and quantity of health care for all Americans and allow the country to turn its attention now to economic growth and budget deficit reduction.

Nelson said he was "pleasantly surprised" by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' decision to "reach across the aisle" and join the court's four liberal judges in rendering the majority ruling.

That departure from the court's usual partisan political divide should be an example for a divided Congress to follow, Nelson said.

Nelson also was pleased with the court's decision that effectively allows states to decide whether to participate in the expanded Medicaid program contained in the health care reform law. 

That, in effect, was "an exoneration" of what he attempted to accomplish in amending the bill to require the federal government to pay the full costs of Medicaid expansion in Nebraska, Nelson said. That provision -- which became known nationally as the Cornhusker Kickback -- was offered to pave the way for full federal funding of the new federal mandate in all states, he said.

The court's decision preserves health care benefits already in place for "tens of thousands of children, young adults, seniors and families in Nebraska," Nelson said. Other benefits will become effective in 2014, he said.

Republican Sen. Mike Johanns said he will "do all I can to push for repeal of (this) terrible piece of policy."

"I think the American people have rejected this legislation," Johanns said during a conference call from Washington. "They want it repealed."

Johanns said he is prepared to try to replace it with provisions that allow small businesses to pool together to purchase health care insurance; limit medical malpractice lawsuits that increase health care costs; allow insurance companies to compete across state lines; and emphasize wellness programs.

Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry said voters ultimately will decide the issue.

"Now that the court has spoken, the debate turns back to the legislature," he said. "Do Americans want this law or not? Elections will decide."

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at dwalton@journalstar.com.

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Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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