The politics of health care reform, Minnesota version
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota Republicans are ramping up their criticism of the federal health care overhaul measure, which was signed into law Tuesday by President Obama.
Every Republican member of the Minnesota Legislature called on Attorney General Lori Swanson, a Democrat, to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the bill. The effort is a clear signal that Republicans, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty, are hoping to make this an issue in the November elections.
A large group of Republicans held a news conference Tuesday to question the constitutionality of the federal health care measure, specifically its requirement that individuals and businesses must buy health insurance.
Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said the requirement is an unprecedented overreach that tramples on states' rights.
"What they've adopted is an unconstitutional scheme that will be struck down in our courts," she said.
This is at least the fourth time in the past week that Republican legislators have raised the issue on the House and Senate floor, or in committees. Gov. Pawlenty also sent a letter to the attorney general requesting she look into the legality of the bill.
Attorneys general from 13 states filed a lawsuit to stop the overhaul, just minutes after the president signed it.
Republicans across the country are raising the states' rights argument, and Ortman says their efforts will pay off at the ballot box in November.
"I do think that you're going to see a repeal momentum and then also the elections. I do think this will be a huge election issue across the country," said Ortman.
Democrats say Republicans are overestimating the political prospects of the health care bill.
Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, says the GOP is wrong about the constitutional question. He says the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. Winkler says Democrats will be delighted to campaign on the health bill in November.
"The fact that Washington could finally pass a bill enacting coverage for almost all Americans, significantly reform the insurance industry and take on some of the abuses that we've seen, shows that it's a party that can get something done," said Winkler. "It shows a president that can get something done. It shows a Congress that can finally pass legislation that was proposed by Republican Teddy Roosevelt in 1912."
As Republicans try to use doubts about the health care bill to their advantage, Democrats appear to be poised to try to make the upcoming election a referendum on Gov. Pawlenty's time in office.
Pawlenty is finishing his second term, and announced last June that he would not run for re-election. That has prompted roughly two dozen candidates to to enter the race to try to replace him.
DFL House Majority Leader Tony Sertich says the state's budget problems, the economy and Pawlenty's approach to balancing the budget over the past eight years will be issues for voters.
"The Republicans who are running for governor are basically running on four more years of Tim Pawlenty, where you've seen a increase in property taxes and a decrease in in our quality of life around health care and education," said Sertich. "If they want to continue down the path of budget deficits and disinvestment in education and health care, that's their prerogative."
While Democrats are trying to make the election about Pawlenty, the governor will continue to work with an eye toward the 2012 presidential election.
Pawlenty has not ruled out a run for the White House. He is scheduled to speak before a group of abortion opponents in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, and will visit the important political state of New Hampshire on Thursday.
- All Things Considered, 03/23/2010, 5:19 p.m.