Opponents take last stand against health care bill
In a defiant last stand against a newly passed health care overhaul, opponents are trying everything they can to stop it from becoming the law of the land.
Republicans in the Senate are planning parliamentary maneuvers to keep a companion bill from reaching the president’s desk. And lawmakers in at least 30 states are working to prevent what they say is an unconstitutional mandate forcing Americans to have health insurance.
Experts say none of it is likely to work, but it will keep the issue, and the outrage, alive until Election Day.
“I am surprised by the mobilization of the states. It does strike me as a kind of civil disobedience, a declaration that we’re not going to follow the law of the land,” said Mark Hall, a professor of law and public health at Wake Forest University.
“It doesn’t make sense. The federal Constitution couldn’t be any clearer that federal law is supreme,” Hall added.
The House passed the plan late Sunday, sparking a variety of protests and threats less than a day later.
By Monday, at least nine state attorneys general had promised to file suit against the federal government as soon as Obama signs the bill. The states were Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington. Officials in North Dakota were weighing whether to join the case.
Virginia and Idaho have passed legislation aimed at blocking the bill’s insurance requirement from taking effect in their states.
In Michigan, a petition drive was launched to put a measure on the ballot asking voters if they want to exempt the state from the overhaul.
In Arizona, lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that will be put on the ballot in November. And in Colorado, a citizens’ group was collecting signatures to put a comparable amendment on the ballot.
Regardless of whether such measures are enacted, they will give opponents of the federal bill a chance to keep the issue in front of voters until the fall.
For the states, it’s a question of individual rights. Many say Congress does not have the authority to require citizens to buy goods or services they may not want.
“Just by virtue of being a resident of the United States, never before in history have we been required to purchase something,” said Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Republican Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli II.
In Washington, Obama’s health care overhaul isn’t completely finished. Although the main bill has passed both houses of Congress, a series of changes sought by House Democrats was headed to the Senate, where debate is expected to begin as early as Tuesday.
Senate Democrats hope to approve the revisions and send the complete bill directly to Obama, but Republicans are determined to drag out the process by offering scores of amendments.
Republican Sen. John McCain told KTVK in Phoenix that the Senate maneuvering is only the first line in the battle against a measure passed in an “unsavory, sausage-making, Chicago-style process.”
“We will fight in the courts, and we will fight in the rallies and the tea parties and the town hall meetings. And we will fight in the ballot booth, and we will prevail. And we will defeat this because the United States of America and Arizona can’t afford this,” McCain said.
“People are mad, and they’re more angry than I’ve ever seen them, and they should be.”
Several of the state proposals to block the plan surfaced in Republican-controlled states, but some were put before Democratic-controlled legislatures.
In Alabama, four bills to block some provisions have been introduced in the Legislature. The Democratic House leader, Rep. Ken Guin, said he will start studying the proposals but was doubtful they could move forward with only 10 days left in the legislative session. He said he wants to study the bill Congress passed before he takes a position.
The state proposals would establish a state right for citizens to pay medical services out of their own pockets and would prohibit penalties against those who refuse to buy health insurance.
Many constitutional scholars say the so-called “health care freedom” laws and amendments do not have any chance of succeeding for one simple reason: The Constitution establishes that national laws take precedence over state laws.
“They can sue, but I can’t imagine a scenario in which a judge would enjoin the implementation of the federal health care bill,” said Lawrence Friedman, a law professor who teaches constitutional law at the New England School of Law in Boston.
“Federal law is supreme. There’s really no room for doubt that federal law controls,” he said.
But others say it is not that simple.
Dave Roland, a lawyer and policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in St. Louis, said the state constitutional amendments, which focus on creating new rights for individuals, could make a plausible court challenge to the federal health care mandates.
“I think there is a very distinct possibility that the Supreme Court might say that where you have a freedom secured by a state constitution that it might warrant protection, even against a federal statute,” Roland said.
States challenging the federal bill say they will also argue that the Constitution’s commerce clause – which was intended to allow the free flow of goods among the states – is not broad enough to allow Congress to require citizens to purchase goods or services they may not want, such as health insurance.
“I suspect that we will see a tsunami of litigation,” said Clint Bolick, litigation director for the conservative Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, which helped draft a constitutional amendment in Arizona that will be on this November’s ballot.
Because the individual mandate does not take effect until 2014, the states challenging that have time to work on legislation.
Michael Boldin, founder of the Tenth Amendment Center, a think tank named for the constitutional amendment that says powers not granted to the federal government are reserved for the states, said there have been other state efforts to circumvent federal laws, most notably in the case of medical marijuana.
Boldin said 14 states now allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, even though it is prohibited under federal law.
“To me what that indicates is when there are enough people refusing to comply with the federal government and enough states passing laws that also refuse to comply, it’s very difficult for the federal government to enforce their laws,” Boldin said.