Senate health care deal draws Republican AGs' ire

By Chris Rizo | Dec 22, 2009

John Suthers (R-Colo.)

Greg Abbott (R-Texas)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-A group of Republican state attorneys general say they are considering possible legal action over a deal that got Senate Democrats their final 60th vote on a federal health care overhaul.

The final vote came from Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Nebraska Democrat, who was able to spare his state higher Medicaid costs in the legislation drafted by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in exchange for his vote.

The controversial deal essentially grants Nebraska a permanent exemption from paying the higher Medicaid expenses that all other states in the nation will be required to pay.

"I have significant concerns about the legality of the U.S. Senate bill," Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said. "This is not a matter of politics. In fact, it is a clear matter of equity between the states. Under this provision Coloradans would be forced to foot part of the Medicaid bill for Nebraskans."

The Senate legislation requires that the states provide Medicaid coverage to anyone making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level -- a move that will likely expand the number of Medicaid-eligible persons throughout the country and increase the financial burden on the states since they bankroll part of the program.

However, Reid inserted a provision in the bill requires that the federal government absorb the increased cost of covering any new Nebraska Medicaid coverage. The provision has already been approved.

A vote on the full Senate bill is expected Christmas Eve.

In addition to Suthers, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said he too was outraged by the deal.

"Because it disadvantages Texas taxpayers, the Texas Attorney General's Office will explore all available avenues to challenge and overturn this legally problematic provision," Abbott said. "Our democratic system of government depends upon transparency and openness--this backroom deal goes too far and must be challenged because Texas deserves better."

For his part, South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster said Tuesday he had received a letter from his state's two U.S. senators -- Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint -- requesting an investigation into the legality of deal.

"Quite obviously, this issue raises very serious concerns about equity, tax fairness as well as the constitutionality of having federal tax levies and mandates that treat one state differently from all the others," McMaster said. "In my judgment, Democrats and Republicans alike from every state in the union should be outraged by this deal."

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox have also agreed to investigate the constitutionality of the deal.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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