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States' Leaders Clash Over Healthcare Lawsuits

Lisa Lambert and Jim Christie

Republican Congressmen and their families hold up hand made signs to rally the crowd of protesters outside of the House chamber as the House prepares to vote on health care reform in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sunday, March 21, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO - New battles are erupting over recently passed U.S. healthcare reforms, this time within the states, where leaders from both parties are clashing on whether to sue the U.S. government.

Only hours after President Barack Obama signed the healthcare plan into law this week, more than a dozen Republican attorneys general of U.S. states -- and one Democrat -- filed lawsuits saying it violated state and individual rights. Others began investigating possible lawsuits.

The reforms, which mandate that each citizen has health insurance, were pushed through by Democrats in the U.S. Congress after months of rancorous partisan fighting.

Wisconsin's Democratic Governor Jim Doyle in a letter on Thursday rebuked the attorney general of his state, J. B. Van Hollen, for threatening to sue, calling a suit "a frivolous and political attempt to thwart the actions of Congress and the law of the country."

Wisconsin requires the state's governor or legislature to approve legal actions.

In a request for approval Van Hollen sent on Thursday, he said that the healthcare plan "upsets the proper balance of power between the federal government and the states."

While some legal scholars think the suits will reach the Supreme Court, many agree that the supremacy clause of the Constitution, which puts the powers of the U.S. government above those of the states, will trump the states' arguments.

Republican Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons has pressed his state's Democrat attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto, for an answer by Monday on whether she will join a multi-state lawsuit.

"I made it clear in late December of last year that if the healthcare bill passed, I would ask you to challenge its constitutionality," Gibbons said in a scolding letter sent on Thursday. "Any reasonable person experiencing such inaction from a private law firm would have fired that law firm already."


In Washington state, Governor Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, and Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, have squared off over his joining the multi-state challenge.


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Gregoire, the state's attorney general before McKenna, is so committed to opposing the lawsuit that she has threatened to file a legal brief in support of the healthcare law.

McKenna supports the suit and expects more states to join it. "I have personally spoken to a governor in another state who has asked me to brief his state's attorney general," he told Reuters on Friday.

States are worried about the expansion of Medicaid, the joint state-federal program for the poor, without federal assistance, as "it's likely given past experience that Congress will cut the federal match."

Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell wrote his state's Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett on Thursday asking him "to refrain from taking any legal action."

Rendell said that because the state's budget is already "at least half a billion dollars out of balance, incurring the costs of a federal lawsuit on this matter is simply not in Pennsylvania's best interests."

Meanwhile, Republican state senators in Connecticut have asked their state's Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to sue to block the law as well. On Wednesday, Blumenthal said he had received the request but only committed to reviewing it.

Republican California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Wednesday he plans to work with the federal government, but added that he has reservations about the law's effect on his state's finances.

"My concern about the federal government's healthcare reform is only how do we fund it, because they have shifted the funding from the federal government and said, 'Hey you, state, we want to cut down on our deficit, so you pick up the difference and you go,' and it will cost us $3 billion more," Schwarzenegger said on Wednesday.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat and former governor running for the state's top office, said on Tuesday he has told deputies to "carefully review" the lawsuit after being asked to join it by Republican lawmakers.

In the same statement, Brown signaled the low chances of his joining the lawsuit: "Health care is not the place, with people's lives at stake, to engage in poisonous partisanship. At this critical time in our nation's history, we need to come together to forge a common purpose."

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