States Move to Block Obamacare's Unfunded Mandate

Monday, 22 Mar 2010 12:11 PM

 

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Less than 24 hours after the House gave final approval to a sweeping overhaul of healthcare, attorneys general from several states on Monday said they will sue to block the plan on constitutional grounds.

Republican attorneys general in 11 states warned that lawsuits will be filed to stop the federal government overstepping its constitutional powers and usurping states' sovereignty.

States are concerned the burden of providing healthcare will fall on them without enough federal support.

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Ten of the attorneys general plan to band together in a collective lawsuit on behalf of Alabama, Florida, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

"To protect all Texans' constitutional rights, preserve the constitutional framework intended by our nation's founders, and defend our state from further infringement by the federal government, the State of Texas and other states will legally challenge the federal health care legislation," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, in a statement.

The Republican attorneys general say the reforms infringe on state powers under the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights.

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, who plans to file a suit in federal court in Richmond, said Congress lacks authority under its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce to force people to buy insurance. The bill also conflicts with a state law that says Virginians cannot be required to buy insurance, he said.

"If a person decides not to buy health insurance, that person by definition is not engaging in commerce," Cuccinelli said in recorded comments. "If you are not engaging in commerce, how can the federal government regulate you?"

In addition to the pending lawsuits, bills and resolutions have been introduced in at least 36 state legislatures seeking to limit or oppose various aspects of the reform plan through laws or state constitutional amendments, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

So far, only two states, Idaho and Virginia, have enacted laws, while an Arizona constitutional amendment is seeking voter approval on the November ballot. But the actual enactment of the bill by President Barack Obama could spur more movement on the measures by state lawmakers.

As is the case on the congressional level, partisan politics is in play on the state level, where no anti-healthcare reform legislation has emerged in Democrat-dominated states like Illinois and New York, according to the legislature conference.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican candidate running for governor, said the mandate would cost Florida at least $1.6 billion in Medicaid alone.

All states would receive extra funding to cover Medicaid costs that are expected to rise under the reform, including 100 percent federal coverage for new enrollees under the plan through 2016.

Medicaid is the healthcare program for the poor jointly administered by the states and federal government.

"The health care reform legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last night clearly violates the U.S. Constitution and infringes on each state's sovereignty," McCollum, said Monday.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter recently became the first governor to sign state legislation requiring the state attorney general to sue the federal government over the mandatory coverage clause, according to Fox News.

There is wide debate among constitutional lawyers over whether such lawsuits could be successful. Generally speaking, federal law usually trumps state law. But opponents are looking to get around that by questioning the law's constitutionality.

The GOP is arguing that Congress passed healthcare reform Sunday night in defiance of American public opinion. Democrats, meanwhile, long have argued that opponents of reform skewed polls by feeding the public misinformation. They hailed Sunday's vote as the "right" decision.

"Last night was a great step forward for the American people," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Fox News on Monday.
President Obama delivered a statement after the vote, calling the "reform" the "right thing to do" for families, seniors, businesses, workers and the future and "another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American dream."

"We proved that this government, a government of the people and by the people, still works for the people," Obama said. "I know this wasn't an easy vote for a lot of people, but it was the right vote."

A bloc of pro-life Democrats turned out to be the key to passing the bill, as Obama sealed a 219-212 victory with a pledge to issue an executive order "clarifying" abortion language in the Senate bill.

The House also voted 220-211 to support a reconciliation bill aimed at "fixing" provisions in the Senate bill that many House Democrats opposed but viewed as better than nothing.

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster and McCollum, a former congressman, are gubernatorial candidates facing Republican primaries this year. Opponents have accused them of making political hay by opposing Democratic healthcare legislation that's unpopular with conservative activists.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who has a large lead over other Democratic gubernatorial candidates, accused McCollum Thursday of "trying to score cheap political points" by threatening to go to court over the healthcare measure.

Many states cite the 10th Amendment, which says "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states," as proof that the U.S. government cannot set their healthcare laws.

Robert Natelson, a constitutional law professor at the University of Montana School of Law, said it would be easier for states to argue for standing to file a lawsuit that claims the federal government has overstepped its constitutional powers.

"The legal question is, Does this healthcare bill exceed the federal government's powers or it is invalid for other reasons?" he said.

Michael Boldin, founder of the Tenth Amendment Center, a think tank on the relationships of the states and federal government, pointed to previous state movements to nullify federal laws in areas such as medical marijuana and Real ID, a federal standard for driving licenses. In the case of marijuana, Boldin said 14 states allow its use for medical purposes despite a prohibition in federal law that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A similar situation may arise with healthcare reform, where there could be mass noncompliance with the law without any real consequences, Boldin said.

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© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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