WASHINGTON — Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is rallying Senate colleagues to join him in backing Florida's challenge to the federal health care law.
The law, the biggest changes to the health care system since Medicare was created 45 years ago, will require most people to get coverage by 2014. McConnell says that's unconstitutional.
Republicans strongly oppose such sweeping mandates and are challenging them in court.
"For the first time, the Congress is not regulating an economic activity in which its citizens have chosen to engage, but rather is mandating that its citizens engage in economic activity — that they purchase a particular product — to begin with, and it would allow the federal government to punish those who make a different choice," McConnell wrote fellow senators late Tuesday.
For months, McConnell has advocated an outright repeal, a refrain he echoed as recently as last week during a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.
However, McConnell's plan to file a friend-of-the-court brief marks the first time the senior Kentucky lawmaker has thrown the weight of his Senate leadership position behind such lawsuits.
"While I strongly believe that we should repeal the law and replace it with the types of commonsense reforms Americans support, I also strongly support the efforts of over 20 states that have challenged this law in the courts," McConnell wrote.
Earlier this year, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Florida on behalf of 20 states.
Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington, Idaho, South Dakota, Indiana, North Dakota, Mississippi, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Alaska have challenged the health care law.
"This bipartisan effort by attorneys general around the country should put the federal government on notice that we will not tolerate the constitutional rights of our citizens and the sovereignty of our states to be trampled on," McCollum said earlier this year. "I will pursue this litigation to the highest court if necessary."
His successor, Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi, has said she, too, will take up the charge.
The law's advocates slammed McConnell's move.
"McConnell isn't stupid," said Andrew Grossman, a veteran Democratic operative and the president of the Health Information Campaign, a health care advocacy group. "He knows insurance companies will be forced to go back to denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions or go out of business. He is playing a dangerous game of chicken with America's health coverage."
(James Rosen contributed to this article.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy's Planet Washington