Published March 22, 2010
The health care reform fight isn't over. It's just changing venues.
Now that the House, in a historic vote, has passed the Senate's bill and sent it to the president's desk, state lawmakers and attorneys general already are lining up to challenge its constitutionality and wage an outside-the-Beltway war against it in the courts.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was the first to announce Monday that he will file a legal challenge -- as soon as Obama signs the bill.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum also announced that he and top prosecutors from 10 other states are filing a lawsuit to "protect the rights" of the American people from the bill.
They plan to sue over the bill's mandate that requires everyone to buy health insurance.
"Essentially, this is just off-the-scale unconstitutional for the federal government to be telling people that they must do something -- that is, they must buy health insurance," South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster told Fox News.
"The health care reform legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this last night clearly violates the U.S. Constitution and infringes on each state's sovereignty," McCollum said in a statement.
The lawsuits will be the first post-passage shot in a legal fight that's been brewing for months.
While some Republicans have threatened to pursue repealing the legislation down the road, the most immediate challenge will take place in the courts.
At least three dozen state legislatures are considering proposals to challenge the federal legislation. Some are pursuing amendments to their constitutions by ballot question; others are looking to change state law.
Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter recently became the first governor to sign state legislation requiring the state attorney general to sue the federal government over the mandatory coverage clause.
Constitutional lawyers have questioned whether such a lawsuit could be successful, since federal law trumps state law. But opponents are looking to get around that by questioning the law's constitutionality.
McCollum is joining with attorneys general from South Carolina, South Dakota, North Dakota, Michigan, Alabama, Washington, Pennsylvania, Utah, Texas and Nebraska.
While Republicans argued that Congress passed health care reform Sunday night in defiance of American public opinion, Democrats have long argued that opponents of reform skewed polls by feeding the public misinformation. They hailed Sunday's vote as the "right" decision.
"Last night was a great step forward for the American people," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Fox News on Monday.
President Obama delivered a statement after the vote, calling the "reform" the "right thing to do" for families, seniors, businesses, workers and the future and "another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American dream."
"We proved that this government, a government of the people and by the people, still works for the people," Obama said. "I know this wasn't an easy vote for a lot of people, but it was the right vote."
A bloc of pro-life Democrats turned out to be the key to passing the bill, as Obama sealed a 219-212 victory with a pledge to issue an executive order "clarifying" abortion language in the Senate bill.
The House also voted 220-211 to support a reconciliation bill aimed at "fixing" provisions in the Senate bill that many House Democrats opposed but viewed as better than nothing.
Clearly angered by the impending vote, House Republican Leader John Boehner shouted at lawmakers that they cannot go back to their constituents and claim to have read the bill, saved money, created jobs or acted openly in their pursuit of the legislation.
"Can you go home and tell your senior citizens that these cuts in Medicare will not limit their access to doctors or further weaken the program instead of strengthening it? No, you can not," Boehner said to shouts of support from his GOP caucus. "And look at how this bill was written. Can you say it was done openly, with transparency and accountability without backroom deals struck behind closed doors, hidden from the people? Hell, no you can't."
Despite his dire warnings, Boehner was followed by Pelosi, who earned an equally passionate response from her Democratic colleagues.
"We all know, and it's been said over and over again, that our economy needs something, a jolt and I believe that this legislation will unleash tremendous entrepreneurial power to our economy,"Pelosi said. "Imagine a society and an economy where a person could change jobs without losing health insurance, where they could be self-employed or start a small business. Imagine an economy where people could follow their passions or their talent and without having to worry that their children would not have health insurance."