Corbett pits Pa. against health plan

Republicans across the country are gathering forces and launching efforts to nullify the legislation

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Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican candidate for governor, said he plans to file suit to challenge the imposition of federal health care legislation in Pennsylvania.

Kevin Harley, a spokesman for Mr. Corbett, said his office was conferring with attorneys general from 10 other states on the specific grounds for the challenge. Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-Berks, Mr. Corbett's rival for the GOP nomination, also denounced the Democratic measure, contending that its requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance violates the Constitution. Separately, three measures have been or are about to be introduced in the state Legislature contesting aspects of the ambitious federal effort to change the health care landscape.

The developments were part of a gathering storm of GOP efforts to block or repeal the centerpiece of the Obama administration's domestic agenda. Statements from Mr. Corbett and Mr. Rohrer Monday were consistent with the advice they heard at a recent Republican State Committee meeting when Fox News commentator Dick Morris advised GOP candidates that the key to GOP victories in November was to nationalize the elections around issues such as health care.

Mr. Corbett's statement did not detail the specific legal grounds he might cite in arguing against the legislation that passed the House late Sunday and is expected to be approved by the Senate in coming days.

"Certainly, there are alleged violations of the 10th Amendment [which reserves for the states powers not specifically granted to the federal government] ... whether Congress has the power under the commerce clause to compel people to purchase insurance," Mr. Harley said. "Whether it's going to be a joint lawsuit or different lawsuits will be filed, that's what's being discussed now."

In a statement, Mr. Rohrer said: "If President Obama signs this unconstitutional health care bill into law, the roadmap for Pennsylvania's legal challenge is clear. From the disintegration of the separation of powers between the state and federal government to the misapplication of the commerce clause to the lack of congressional authority to apply a direct tax on citizens, the Congress has given us an obvious framework to oppose this bad law."

Acting in the last month, two states, Virginia and Idaho, have already enacted measures designed to nullify the expected federal mandate. Legislators in 28 states have proposed state constitutional amendments designed to block the federal health care initiative, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. And in 13 states, legislatures are considering changes in state law to resist the mandates of the anticipated federal law. Pennsylvania lawmakers are seeking action on both of those tracks.

State Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, circulated a memo Friday, alerting his colleagues to his plan to introduce legislation modeled on the Virginia law that would declare the federal insurance mandate unenforceable in the commonwealth.

Rep. Matt Baker, R-Bradford, the ranking Republican on the House Health and Human Service Committee, introduced a measure last year, the "Health Care Freedom Act," which would, among other things, declare that Pennsylvanians could not be penalized for not purchasing health insurance -- a key feature of the federal legislation.

Mr. Baker is also one of the supporters of a state constitutional amendment, offered by Rep. Curt Schroder, R-Chester, which would attempt to grant Pennsylvanians similar rights to opt out of the mandates of the federal law. A change in the state Constitution must be approved in two separately elected legislative sessions. Given the Democratic majority in the state House and the veto power of Gov. Ed Rendell, none of those proposals has a realistic chance of enactment in the current session of the Legislature. That could change, however, after November elections, in which a new governor will be chosen and the Democratic House majority will be severely tested.

Whether the federal courts would allow states to opt out of the various provisions of the health care law is another question hanging over the state-level maneuvering against the anticipated federal changes. While some conservative commentators, like the Pennsylvania Republicans, characterize the bills as unconstitutional overreach by Congress, administration supporters argue that the health care package, however ambitious, is well within the scope of settled law on the federal government's right to regulate interstate commerce.


Politics Editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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