Two legislative panels voted Tuesday to give Gov. Jan Brewer the go-ahead to sue the federal government over the new national health care plan.
House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, said Arizona needs to step in to void the “mandate” from Washington that this state spend more money to provide health care for the poor between now and 2014 when the federal law takes effect.
But Adams conceded there is no actual mandate in the law President Obama signed earlier this month. The only requirement is that states continue to provide the same level of services they did before Obama acted in order to be eligible for future Medicaid funds.
That would require lawmakers and Gov. Jan Brewer to undo parts of the just-enacted budget — a budget that cuts more than 310,000 people off the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program, as well as eliminates a separate Kids Care program providing health insurance for the children of the working poor.
Adams brushed aside that distinction between a mandate and the fiscal carrot in the federal law as meaningless. He said the idea that Arizona would not continue to take federal Medicaid dollars “is not a discussion that we’re having.”
The legislation, set for full debate Wednesday in the House and Senate, actually seeks to sue on two points.
One is what Adams calls the mandate. The other is the contention that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority with provisions in the law requiring all individuals to purchase health care or face a fine.
Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, said only affected individuals could challenge that law. He said Arizona has no legal standing — no legal interest — in that fight since it doesn’t affect state government.
“We believe we do have standing,” Adams countered.
The push to give Brewer the right to sue comes after Attorney General Terry Goddard refused to join with counterparts in other states who are challenging the law.
Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said Goddard is “derelict in his duty” to the state. He said the move by Goddard, a Democrat and a candidate for governor, is political.
“I’m disappointed our attorney general, whose No. 1 responsibility is in defense of states’ rights, has chosen to side with the Pelosi/Reid/Obama folks instead of the citizens of this state,” he said, referring to the speaker of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate majority leader.
But Cheuvront said it is the legislative Republicans who are playing partisan politics.
“It’s trying to be political by going after an attorney general who happens to be running against the sitting governor,” he said.
Cheuvront also said it makes no sense for Arizona to spend money filing suit, as more than a dozen other states already have challenged the federal legislation. He said if those lawmakers believe Congress has overstepped its bounds, let them use their own resources.
Adams, however, said Arizona needs to sue “because we are being uniquely hurt.” He said 44 other states are not being hit as hard.
But Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said that’s a question of perspective.
She said the federal law treats all states equally: They cannot cut their health programs below current levels or risk losing Medicaid dollars. The difference is that Arizona, unlike most other states, has a more generous program, providing care to those with higher incomes than required by Medicaid. That keeps Arizona from cutting back now to the same level that already exists elsewhere.
But Sinema said the federal government still will provide the same two-for-one match of dollars for Arizona’s expanded Medicaid program between now and 2014 as it does for the states with less generous programs.