Government officials and lawyers from a number of states around the country are lining up to battle against the advancing federal health care overhaul. But Attorney General Bob Cooper says he’ll sit this one out – at least for now.
Cooper’s office said expending time and effort investigating the legal complexities of the health care legislation under discussion in Washington, D.C., before its details are fully settled and finalized, “would not be an appropriate or effective use of this office’s resources.”
“Until we know what the bill as enacted says and when its provisions take effect, any such analysis is premature,” read a statement from Sharon Curtis-Flair, Cooper’s spokeswoman.
However, Rep. Susan Lynn — one of two House lawmakers publicly asking Cooper to start crafting legal defenses against federal impositions — also plans soon to introduce state legislation confronting measures and mandates in the health care revamp that she believes outstrip their constitutionality.
Lynn wants the Tennessee Constitution amended “to clarify the people of the state will never be mandated by the government to purchase a product,” including health insurance.
“I am very concerned about this overreaching of federal powers. If these unconstitutional issues…are allowed to pass or they go unchallenged, there will absolutely be no limits left on the federal government,” said the Mt. Juliet Republican, who chairs the House Government Operations Committee.
Tennessee is one of several states gearing up to possibly take on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a health care overhaul approved by the U.S. Senate on Christmas Eve. At issue in addition to its constitutionality is the bill’s cost and a controversial political compromise that helped get it passed.
On Tuesday, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican, took issue with the health care legislation, questioning whether it’s legal to charge people a tax or penalty for lacking health insurance.
In a letter sent this week, he urged fellow attorneys general across the country to help launch a “full review” of that mandate’s constitutionality and pinpoint legal options states can use to block federal directives they find objectionable.
Lawmakers in 15 states have filed bills or constitutional amendments attempting to halt the health care package, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Officials in at least 11 other states are reportedly considering doing the same.
Tennessee isn’t on that list yet, but Lynn and Rep. Debra Young Maggart, R-Hendersonville, say they’re determined to thwart the new federal mandates.
The two state representatives asked Cooper just before Christmas if he’d begin prepping a legal case against the health care legislation, citing a violation of Tenth Amendment state sovereignty protections.
Demands for Washington to heed the Tenth Amendment have dramatically intensified among conservatives following the election of President Barack Obama, and opposition to expanded federal control over health care has galvanized protesters at Tea Party rallies around the country throughout 2009.
Lynn, who is running for state Senate in 2010, helped pass a resolution last spring reiterating Tennessee as a sovereign state and denouncing federal legislative overreach. She says Democratic-led health care reform efforts, which include an estimated $1.4 billion price tag, are an unfunded and ultimately unlawful mandate on the states.
“We see this as a violation of equal protection of the law, an affront to our sovereignty, and as a breach of the U.S. Constitution,” she said.
Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, has expressed concern in the past on the price of the pending health care reform effort as well. His office declined to comment on whether the attorney general should commit to building an arsenal of legal arguments to try and block the legislation.