PENSACOLA — The Obama administration will try to persuade a federal judge today to throw out a lawsuit by 20 states that say the president's health care overhaul is unconstitutional.
The fight will primarily be over sections of the law that will require individuals to have health insurance or face tax penalties and require states to pay additional Medicaid costs not covered by the federal government.
Attorneys defending the law will argue that the section requiring health insurance doesn't take effect until 2015 and that it's up to an individual taxpayer — not the states — to challenge the law then. The government has said it has the right to create the insurance mandate under the commerce and general welfare clauses of the Constitution.
Florida's Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum filed the lawsuit in a Pensacola court just minutes after President Barack Obama signed the 10-year, $938 billion health care bill into law in March. The nation's most influential small business lobby, the National Federation of Independent Business, has joined McCollum's suit, and a similar case is unfolding in Virginia.
There, the Obama administration also tried to get the lawsuit dismissed, saying Virginia lacked standing to sue, but a federal judge has allowed it to continue, ruling that the overhaul raises complex constitutional issues.
Timothy Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee University law school in Virginia, said it will be difficult for the states to argue that the federal government can't force individuals to have health insurance when the law won't take effect for years.
Attorneys for the states and the Justice Department will each have 45 minutes to present their case to U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, who is expected to release a written decision later. The lawsuit is likely to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court, probably before the 2012 presidential election.
The other states that are suing are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.
Change sought: The Obama administration is embracing the first change to the landmark health care legislation, McClatchy Newspapers reported. In a letter to Senate leaders, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urged the scaling back of a requirement that businesses report to the IRS transactions worth more than $600. The Senate is scheduled today to take up two proposals to change the mandate as amendments to a small-business assistance bill, one by Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and one by Mike Johanns, R-Neb. Sebelius and Geithner endorsed Nelson's proposal, which would exempt businesses with fewer than 25 employees and all transactions worth less than $5,000.