House Republican questions Oregon AG's motives

Chris Rizo Apr. 1, 2010, 3:21pm

Sal Esquivel (R)

John Kroger (R)

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-Oregon Attorney General John Kroger's vow to defend the national health care plan drew criticism Thursday from a leading Republican in the state House of Representatives.

State Rep. Sal Esquivel said he wonders why Kroger and Gov. Ted Kulongoski, both Democrats, are rushing to publicly defend the nearly $1 trillion health care law signed by President Barack Obama last week.

"This just doesn't make sense," Esquivel, R-Medford, told Legal Newsline. "But only the governor and the AG know if what they're doing is politically motivated."

Tony Green, a spokesman for the attorney general, said Thursday that Kroger's office decided to publicly announce their intentions to defend the law to show there is support for the overhaul amid the loud outcry from many Republican attorneys general.

"Obviously, the federal government would be the front-line defender in the lawsuit," Green said, explaining that Oregon's role might only be limited to filing an amicus brief.

"But we have not precluded other options that might emerge," he added.

Esquivel, the ranking Republican member on the House Revenue Committee, said it makes no sense for Kroger and Kulongoski to offer legal assistance when the Obama administration has ample resources to defend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

"I just hate to see us waste taxpayer money," Esquivel said.

The Democratic-drafted health care law is aimed at expanding coverage and cutting costs. But Esquivel said if congressional Democrats were truly serious about cutting heath care costs they would have adopted tort reforms and allowed Americans to purchase medical insurance across state lines.

"Those are the two key factors to lowering the cost of health care," he said. "We need health care reform but this law is about taxing people to pay for insurance for those without it."

During debate on the health care bill, House and Senate Democrats, who receive large amounts of campaign cash from trial lawyers, eschewed the idea of including tort reforms in the final legislation.

That, despite the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, saying that as much as $54 billion could be saved over the next decade if Congress enacted a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering and a $500,000 cap on punitive damages and restricting the statute of limitations on malpractice claims.

Esquivel said he is generally opposed to the health care overhaul that will also require Americans to have health insurance or face penalties, and add millions of people to Medicaid rolls at the expense of already cash-strapped states.

"I would not object if we could afford to pay for it all without raising taxes," Esquivel said, noting that the law provides subsidies to help low- and middle-income workers buy coverage and also calls for new taxes on wealthy Americans and the nation's well-insured.

The law marks the most significant expansion of medical care since Congress created Medicare in 1965 for the nation's elderly and disabled.

More than a dozen state attorneys general -- all Republicans but one -- agree, at least in part, with Esquivel.

They are suing the federal government, claiming that Congress overstepped its authority in passing the law. Specifically, they say the individual insurance mandate violates the Commerce Clause.

Under the law, beginning in 2014, individuals who flout the requirement face an annual penalty of $695, while employers could face penalties of $2,000 per worker for not offering affordable health coverage.

In announcing his support for the law, Kroger said the health care challenges pending in Florida and Virginia "present some of the most important constitutional issues facing this generation."

"Opponents of the bill seek to turn back the constitutional clock 100 years, returning to a time when the United States Supreme Court routinely struck down legislation designed to protect the health, safety and well-being of the American people," Kroger said in a statement Wednesday.

Parties to the multistate lawsuit filed in Florida are the state attorneys general from Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota and Washington.

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is the only Democrat who joined Republicans in their effort to block the new health care law. Virginia's attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, filed a separate lawsuit in his state.

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