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Ramsey: Not a Moment to Lose in Health Care Battle

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says there’s no better time than the present to start planning legal strategies  to potentially block the federal health care package from being implemented in Tennessee.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Attorney General Bob Cooper, Ramsey asked what legal maneuvers are available to the State of Tennessee in on order to protect taxpayers from what Ramsey estimates is a $1.2 billion unfunded federal mandate.

“It is time for the Attorney General’s office to offer preliminary legal options to the legislature as to how we may best protect Tennessee citizens from this unfair and quite possibly unconstitutional federal action,” according to Ramsey’s letter. “(T)he General Assembly must be proactive in dealing with what Governor Bredesen has called “’the mother of all unfunded mandates.’”

Last week, Cooper said he would wait until the U.S. Senate and House bills are reconciled and ironed out before digging into legal arguments the state can take — that to do otherwise would be an irresponsible use of his staff’s time and resources.

The U.S. Senate narrowly approved its health care reform package on Christmas Eve, but not before promising to pick up Nebraska’s share of additional Medicaid costs.

Ramsey, who is calling the political move the “Nebraska Deal,” asked Cooper if the state could form a legal argument to block the bill or ensure the same arrangement for other states.

“We’ve seen mandates from the federal government all the time, but nothing to this magnitude,” Ramsey told TNReport.com. “I don’t think it’s what our founding fathers had in mind and I don’t think it is fair for other states to pick up the tab for Nebraska.”

Ramsey specifically asked: “Does any provision within the United States Constitution or other federal law provide a legal basis by which the State of Tennessee and other states could seek judicial intervention to block implementation of H.R. 3590 or, alternatively, to ensure that the ‘Nebraska Deal’ is extended to the other states?”

Ramsey, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in August, says he wants to give the General Assembly the information it needs to proactively block the bill.

On Monday, Gov. Phil Bredesen said he was “moderately outraged” by the health care package politicking, but said he would leave the question of initiating legal action to Cooper.

“I’ve said publicly that some of the things that have happened with the bill are outrageous, but nothing is final yet, so I agree that there is nothing to action on at this time,” Bredesen said in a statement Tuesday.

Attorneys general in at least 13 other states have agreed to pursue legal action against the health care reform.

Rep. Susan Lynn, a vocal advocate for state sovereignty on this issue, says she plans to introduce legislation – including a constitutional amendment – to protect Tennessee from the federal mandate.

Ramsey said there isn’t a moment to lose.

“We must begin to prepare for the harsh impact of either the House or Senate bill on Tennesseans. As Governor Bredesen has not ruled out asking that Tennessee join other states in challenging the proposed legislation, there is no reason to wait,” he said.

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Health Care News Tax and Budget

Guv Taking Hands-Off Approach to Health Care Reform Challenge

Gov. Phil Bredesen indicated today he won’t push to try blocking federal health care legislation in court.

While Bredesen, a Democrat in his last year in office, has in the past taken issue with the hefty $1.5 billion price tag the plan could mean to Tennessee in expanded Medicaid costs, he said the decision-making authority to file legal action is properly left to Attorney General Bob Cooper.

“I think it just encourages really bad behavior on the part of legislators just seeing everything as an opportunity to hold things up and get something. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” he told reporters Monday after addressing the Nashville Rotary Club.

Cooper said last week he’s going to hold off deciding whether to pursue a legal course against the federal government’s health care reform package until the final legislation is ironed out in Washington.

Republican state Reps. Susan Lynn, Mt. Juliet, and Debra Young Maggart, Hendersonville, urged Cooper to begin investigating now whether Tennessee has a case against the health care overhaul on the basis that the federal insurance-purchase mandate is a violation of Tenth Amendment state sovereignty protections.

Another sticking point for many critics was the political compromising behind the U.S. Senate’s bill, which exempted Nebraska from paying its share to expand Medicaid programs.

State Senate speaker Ron Ramsey, a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, has also called on Cooper to “examine the constitutionality of federal legislation which singles out Nebraska for favorable treatment over 49 other states.”

Sen. Diane Black, a registered nurse from Gallatin, said she’d too would like to see Tennessee fight the federal government’s health care plan on the basis that it creates a mandate and favors one state over others.

“I would just assume they just not try to mandate how health care should be conducted in our particular state,” the Republican said.

Bredesen said he was “very unhappy” that Nebraska will be spared the full cost of the legislation.

“I will be honest. It is just a huge load on the states at a time when we’re still digging out of this recession,” Bredesen said about Washington’s efforts at health care reform.

The governor stopped short of saying whether he felt the state should join or ignore the 13 other Republican attorneys general who have lined up to fight the health care package.

Legislators in at least 16 other states have introduced bills or constitutional amendments to stifle the health care package, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.