An Idaho Senate panel Friday ended legislation that would tell state agencies to not follow federal health care reforms. The Idaho House approved the nullification plan earlier this month.
Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, was the first member of the Senate State Affairs Committee to speak out against the plan, saying that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t let states nullify federal laws. “I can’t find in that important document that our state has the authority to nullify a federal act,” said Davis, an attorney. He said that he opposes the federal reform plan passed by Congress last year, but that the courts are the proper arena to settle the issue.
A federal judge in Florida sided with Idaho, ruling the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) unconstitutional, but other courts have sided with the federal government that the plan is fine.
Davis and other senators who opposed the plan said they didn’t favor the PPACA. “I find no constitutional justification for the things we are talking here today,” said Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, about the nullification plan. Six of the members of the Senate committee voted against the plan, with just Republican Sens. Russ Fulcher of Meridian and Chuck Winder of Boise backing the plan.
Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, said she voted against the plan because it could cost $12 million in federal grants for health programs she said go to people who can’t help themselves. “We’re in dire straits and we can’t even meet our budget now,” Lodge said. “There’s a threat that [the federal government] will take those dollars away from us. I can’t handle that right now.” After the meeting, Lodge was surrounded by several people supporting the nullification plan asking about her vote.
The committee listened to almost three hours of testimony on the plan, the vast majority of which supported the plan.
“If we can’t take a stand on this issue, where the court has already decided in the state’s favor, there is nothing to stop the federal government from doing as it pleases,” said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, who sponsored the plan.
“The number one concern of our members was for the repeal of Obamacare,” said Russ Smerz, the president of Tea Party Boise.
“I think we’ve heard from real Idahoans today,” Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, said at the end of testimony but before the committee killed the legislation. He called the PPACA the worst law in the history of the United States and said nullification is the proper course of action. “Nullification is not a dirty word but it has been made that way,” he said. “This is a peaceful solution to a serious problem.”
Pearce said that Gov. Butch Otter wanted the plan on his desk. He said one potential next step would be for Otter to write an executive order barring state agencies from following the PPACA. Shortly after the plan failed, Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian, had no comment on an executive order. Otter will be on a Fox Business cable channel show Monday to discuss health care reform Monday.
Idaho state agencies have received more than $2 million in federal grants for the first steps of the PPACA and spent thousands of dollars studying how to implement to program.
Lawmakers supporting the nullification plan could take further action this year against the PPACA. “I’m sorry we offended these guys’ constitutional senses,” Pearce said. “We weren’t doing this for show. We were doing this to protect the people of Idaho.”
Two people testified against the now-stalled plan. Donna Yule with the Idaho Public Employees Association said the plan showed disrespect to the Founding Fathers of the U.S. and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, whose office issued a report saying nullification violated the Idaho and U.S. constitutions.
“There is an appropriate process to address the constitutionality of law and this is not it,” Yule said. She also said the plan could affect people on Medicaid, which uses federal and state funds to provide medical services.
The other person to testify against the plan, retired submarine officer and blogger Joel Kennedy of Meridian, quoted Presidents Andrew Jackson and James Madison in opposing nullification. “In no case has nullification been found to be constitutional,” Kennedy said.
Supporters of the nullification plan both supported the idea of nullification and criticized the federal health care plan. People who testified said the federal plan would be an economic nightmare and worse than Dracula.