Health bill's foes continue fight

The battle moves to the Senate - and then to the states.

The New York TimesMarch 23, 2010 

  • Legislators in many states are proposing bills or constitutional amendments to block the health care bill Obama will sign today. The state measures 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.

    Will it work? 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.

    Tsunami ahead: 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 for November's ballot.

    The Associated Press

— As jubilant Democrats prepared for President Barack Obama to sign their landmark health care legislation in a ceremony at the White House, Republicans opened a campaign on Monday to repeal the legislation and to use it as a weapon in this year's hotly contested midterm elections.

"We will not allow this to stand," Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., promised Monday afternoon as the House reconvened, a day after the bitterly partisan vote.

Democratic leaders hailed the passage of the bill as a towering achievement.

"Last night, we made history," Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said as she prepared to sign the legislation and send it to the White House. "We honored the vows of our founders who in the Declaration of Independence talked about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We believe the legislation that we have gives all people in our country the liberty to have healthier lives."

Democrats said they would focus on explaining the measure to their constituents and on highlighting some immediate benefits, and they called on Republicans to ease off on their attacks now that the legislation had passed.

"It is time to chill out, Republicans," said Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif. "Let this bill work. Let our constituents finally get health care."

But there were no signs of a cease-fire. Senate Democrats said they would take up a budget reconciliation containing the final revisions to the health care measure shortly after Obama signs the main bill today.

Far from sounding a conciliatory note, Senate Republicans said they would employ every procedural maneuver available to derail the reconciliation bill, or at least knock out main provisions. At the top of their list of targets are changes to a proposed tax on high-cost employer-sponsored insurance policies.

The White House negotiated changes to the tax with leaders of organized labor, who worried that it would hit too many middle-class workers who have robust union-sponsored benefits plans. House Democrats also disliked the tax, and if Senate Republicans succeed in blocking the changes, it could create a major political headache for Obama.

The proposed changes to the tax were among the topics when Republicans and Democrats met on Monday afternoon with the Senate parliamentarian, who will rule on the procedural challenges Republicans are planning to raise in debate this week.

Senate Democratic leaders also went to the White House on Monday to discuss strategy for the floor fight over the reconciliation bill.

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, quickly adopted a new rhetorical strategy Monday, portraying the changes sought by Democrats as revisions that would make the health care law worse, not better.

"Democrat leaders now want us to take the bill that passed the Senate in December and that the House voted on last night and make the tax hikes even higher, the Medicare cuts even deeper," McConnell said in a floor speech. "They want us to endorse a raft of new sweetheart deals that were struck behind closed doors last week so this thing could limp over the finish line last night."

It was unclear that the argument would stick, given that many of the changes in the reconciliation measure are intended to adjust provisions the Republicans themselves had criticized, like the so-called Cornhusker kickback that would provide extra Medicaid money for Nebraska.

Around the country, reaction to the bill's passage was emotional, and in some cases violent.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., said her Tucson office was vandalized after her vote for the measure. A glass door was shattered, she said.

Looking to November

Across the nation, Republican candidates seized on the passage of the health care measure to bolster their efforts to capture Democratic seats in Congress.

"Last night, Washington thumbed its nose at the American people, taking over one-sixth of our nation's economy and adding to the mountain of debt already looming over our children's future," said former Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut who hopes to succeed Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Democrat who is retiring. "This is not the time to give up and go home," Simmons said. "Now is the time to fight."

The American Legislative Exchange Council, an association of conservative state legislators, said it was accelerating its efforts to block the federal requirement for people to carry health insurance that would take effect in 2014.

State legislators in 39 states have filed or plan to file bills to block the requirement, the council said. Virginia lawmakers have already approved such legislation.

The attorney general of Florida, Bill McCollum, said Monday that he and the attorneys general of eight other states would file suit to block enforcement of the federal law. The federal measure "violates the U.S. Constitution and infringes on each state's sovereignty," said McCollum, a Republican.

Gov. C.L. Otter of Idaho, a Republican, signed a bill last week that directs the state attorney general to file suit against the federal government if state residents are forced to buy health insurance.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service