Despite taking a beating in the Florida Republican primary for Governor, Attorney General Bob McCollum(R) continues to pursue a legal strategy against the federal government. Hopeful that the nationwide legal strategy against health reform would win him the gubernatorial race, McCollum is now left with simply a legal strategy. But alas, he’s not giving up! Yesterday, Judge Roger Vinson held a hearing on the AG lawsuit in federal court in Pensacola. Vinson, a Ronald Reagan appointee, signaled to his audience that he intended to allow pieces of the legal argument to progress to the next phase. The judge stated that his decision regarding dismissal would be issued no later than October 14th and oral arguments would begin on December 16th.
For those closely watching this lawsuit, this is not a surprising outcome. If you take stock of the situation, it shapes up as more of a political tantrum than a legal travesty. The plaintiffs are 16 Attorneys General (all Republican save Louisiana) and 4 Republican Governors. They appear to be part of a larger Republican strategy to attack health reform at all fronts and at all costs — this is evident in the Johanns (R-NE) amendment that failed this week, an attempt to gut funding for the prevention fund, a cornerstone of health reform. Tactically, McCollum chose well — beginning the hearings in Pensacola and progressing to a conservative bench in Atlanta — both clearly afford the anti-reform AG posse an advantage. Despite the drama of the court proceedings, the legal confrontation should not be brushed off as fodder. Most likely, according to wonks and legal scholars, the lawsuit will land squarely in the laps of the Supreme Court justices. From there, the outcome is not entirely certain.
It is important to remember, however, that the central arguments espoused by McCollum et al. are weak and disingenuous. They boil down to two main issues: is insurance synonymous with commerce AND is a Medicaid expansion the same as coercion? If you want a legal summary, read here.
First, those wishing to dismantle health reform want voters to believe that they are forced to participate in the business of health care by the federal government — demanding they engage in commerce, stripping citizens of their individual liberty. Second, the AGs want voters to believe that the states themselves are victims of too much federal power, coercing states to participate in the public insurance program, Medicaid. Hoping to ride on the tails of a disenchanted electorate, the AGs are touting their steps to the Supreme Court as ‘wins’ against big government.
The arguments against health care reform, however, lack logic. First — for a party that is constantly demanding ‘pay fors’ — they should be in lock step with policy that provides a payment mechanism for health care that all people use and need, regardless of insurance status. The government is not forcing engagement in commerce; it is simply finding a payment mechanism for commerce that already exists. Second, the very idea that the federal government is coercing states to participate in Medicaid is preposterous. States may choose not to participate in the program; in fact, the leading Republican think tank, the Heritage Foundation, encourages states to do so — reminding them, yes, a state may choose to opt out of the program.
This anti-reform posse must be challenged both in court and on ‘main street.’ Advocates are powerful tools in defusing the legal strategy of the far right through educating the public about why health reform is a necessary good. As the Democratic candidate, State Sen. Dan Gelber, running to replace McCollum states, “There are four million people without health care in our state… everybody agrees this was not the most perfect bill that’s ever passed. But I am not going to take the resources of this office that are so desperately needed to solve some of the pressing security issues of our state and dedicate them to what I think ultimately really was a politically motivated lawsuit that was spawned out of a primary battle and that, ultimately, I don’t think has a whole lot of merit when it gets to the Supreme Court, which I think it will…But I do think if you don’t like the bill, Miss Bondi [Pam Bondi (R-FL) AG candidate] should run for the Congress, where she can, as a legislator, fix it in the next legislative session.”
Florida has over 4 million uninsured people – how many does your state have?
— Eva Marie Stahl, Policy Consultant