GOP state prosecutors threaten court challenge to health bill

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 19, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Republican prosecutors from South Carolina and Florida said Friday they were preparing to file a lawsuit if the health care bill before Congress becomes law, challenging its requirement that all Americans buy insurance.

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster said he and Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum spoke with other top state prosecutors Thursday in a conference call about possible legal action.

McMaster said the proposed federal mandate for individuals to purchase health insurance — or face a fine of as much as $750 for most people — is unconstitutional.

"It is my belief and that of other attorneys general that this is clearly unconstitutional," he told McClatchy. "That's why we're moving forward. We need to protect the sovereignty of our states and the liberty of our people."

McCollum declined to comment. Ryan Wiggins, a spokeswoman, said McCollum was spending considerable time on the phone with other state prosecutors, rounding up support for a lawsuit.

"He's been trying to get other AG's on board to file suit," Wiggins said. "He's been on conference calls all day trying to do this lawsuit."

Wiggins didn't follow through on a promise to provide details of the potential legal challenge.

Massachusetts in 2006 enacted a health insurance law requiring its residents to purchase coverage. Several judges there have dismissed lawsuits contesting that mandate.

McMaster and McCollum, a former congressman, are both gubernatorial candidates facing Republican primaries later this year. Opponents have accused them of making political hay by opposing Democratic health care legislation that's unpopular with conservative activists.

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

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Sunday on the historic bill to extend medical benefits to 32 million uninsured Americans.

The Senate would have to pass the legislation next week under a budget-reconciliation procedure requiring a simple majority of votes instead of the 60 votes normally needed to cut off debate. No GOP lawmakers in either chamber are expected to vote for the measure.

McMaster, McCollum and 13 other attorneys general threatened legal action in January over a different provision giving Nebraska extra federal funds for its increased Medicaid costs under the health care bill. That clause has been removed from the legislation now before the House.

McMaster said Friday that Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, both Republicans, expressed interest Thursday in joining a lawsuit over the mandate to buy insurance.

Wasden would have no choice: Idaho Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter on Wednesday signed a state measure requiring him to file a suit to challenge the mandate if the health overhaul becomes law.

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