TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The White House says it isn’t worried that 13 state attorneys general are suing to overturn the massive health care overhaul, and many legal experts agree the effort is futile.
But the lawsuit, filed in federal court seven minutes after President Barack Obama signed the 10-year, $938 billion health care bill, underscores the divisiveness of the issue and the political rancor that has surrounded it.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum led the effort to file the suit that claims Congress doesn’t have the constitutional right to force people to get health coverage. It also says the federal government is violating the Constitution by forcing a mandate on the states without providing resources to pay for it.
“To that I say, ‘Bring it on,’” said White House Domestic Policy Chief Melody Barnes, who cited similar suits filed over Social Security and the Voting Rights Act when those were passed. “If you want to look in the face of a parent whose child now has health care insurance and say we’re repealing that ... go right ahead.”
A 14th state, Virginia, did not join the bigger lawsuit, but filed its own, which other states are also considering.
McCollum, a Republican running for governor, has been talking about suing to overturn the bill since December. This month he invited other attorneys general to join him. So far South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Michigan, Utah, Pennsylvania, Alabama, South Dakota, Idaho, Washington, Colorado and Louisiana have agreed.
All the attorneys general are Republican except James “Buddy” Caldwell of Louisiana, a Democrat, who said he signed on because Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal asked him to and he felt the effort had merit.
The lawsuit, filed in Pensacola, asks a judge to declare the bill unconstitutional because “the Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage.”
Robert Sedler, a constitutional law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, said the effort isn’t going anywhere.
“This is pure, pure political posturing and they have to know it,” he said.
But South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley disputed that, saying his state will have to cut programs to make up for increased Medicaid costs.
“This isn’t about attorneys general trying to break into the realm of telling what needs to happen with health care reform,” he said. “This is attorneys general saying you went too far with unfunded federal mandates. You exceeded your power under the Constitution.”
Not so, said Bruce Jacob, a constitutional law professor at Stetson University in Florida, who said the suit seems like a political ploy and is unlikely to succeed.