CHICAGO – After failing to kill health care reform in Washington, Republicans are taking their fight to the states and the courts to block a key measure which requires most people to buy insurance or pay a fine.
The attorneys general of at least 12 states plan to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal mandate after President Barack Obama signs the bill into law on Tuesday.
Idaho and Virginia have passed laws preventing their residents from being forced to buy insurance and similar legislation has been proposed in 36 other states.
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These measures have little chance of succeeding, analysts said, but will help fuel an intense battle ahead of mid-term elections where Republicans hope to unseat Democrats at the state, local and federal levels.
"They're engaged in political grandstanding," said Jonathan Siegel, a law professor at George Washington University.
The constitution clearly grants the federal government the right to overrule the states, which means the state measures are "irrelevant."
The question of whether the federal government can require people to buy health insurance will likely head to the Supreme Court.
While it won't be a "slam dunk" for the White House, the federal government is granted the right to regulate commerce and opponents will likely lose, Siegel said.
"Their goal is to keep the unpopular parts of the issue alive until the November elections," said Michael Martinez, a professor of political science at the University of Florida.
Making people buy health insurance or pay a fine "sounds like an infringement on freedom" and plays into the Republican narrative that the reform package is a government takeover, Martinez told AFP.
It also undermines a linchpin of the plan because the only way to get insurance companies to cover people with costly preexisting conditions is to get everyone into the pool, Martinez said.
"They see these low approvals of Congress and see the opportunity to keep kicking the horse while it's down," Martinez said in a telephone interview.
"I think that may be a misread of the polls."
A large chunk of the dissatisfaction with Congress came from Democrats frustrated that it was taking so long to pass the health care bill, he said.
Many of the benefits of the package -- like expanding coverage to millions of Americans, stopping insurance companies from denying coverage to children with preexisting conditions and giving tax breaks to small business -- will also kick in relatively quickly.
"I don't think their chance of winning back either chamber (of Congress) is very good," Michael Traugott, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan, said of Republicans.
Democrats stood to lose about 20 seats in the House of Representatives regardless of whether they invested political capital in the controversial reform package, Traugott said.
The poor economy makes it a tough year for incumbents, many of the new seats Democrats won in the last two elections were in largely Republican districts, and the party in power typically takes a hit in the mid-terms.
Losing the 40 seats Republicans need to win a majority would be "a very unusual outcome" especially given the popularity bump Obama and Democrats are expected to get once the bill is passed and the benefits kick in, he said.
Republicans are also at risk of alienating key independent voters after embracing the ultra-conservative "Tea Party" movement and refusing to work with Democrats on health reform and other critical legislation.
"This is a very high risk strategy for them to become the party of 'no,'" Traugott said in a telephone interview.
Obama will likely see his popularity rise once the apparent benefits of health care reform cut through the political rhetoric.
The key to whether Republicans succeed in making him a one-term president is whether or not the economy picks up sufficiently by 2012, Traugott said.
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