The Corner

‘If States Could Speak’: The GOP’s ‘Third Front’ Against Obamacare

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) introduced legislation Tuesday that would do considerable damage to the Democratic health-care law by allowing states to ‘opt out’ of its key provisions.

The State Health Care Choice Act would let state governments choose whether or not to participate in various aspects of Obamacare, including: the individual mandate forcing citizens to purchase health insurance or pay a fine, the employer mandate forcing businesses to provide health insurance or pay a fine, the mandated expansion of state Medicaid programs and the federal mandate determining what qualifies as an ‘acceptable’ health-insurance plan.

Addressing a group of reporters on Capitol Hill, Barrasso noted that President Obama in his State of the Union address last week indicated his willingness to work with Republicans on ways to improve the current health-care law. “Well, today we have ideas that will lower costs and improve care,” he said. “Instead of requiring states to follow Obamacare’s one-size-fits-all health-care policy, our bill lets states decide what works best for their citizens.”

Barrasso noted Monday’s court ruling striking down the health-care law in its entirety and said the proposed legislation was intended as “the second dagger into the heart of Obamacare.” Graham said by introducing the bill, Republicans were opening a “third front” in the effort to undo Obamacare, in addition to 1) challenging it in the courts and 2) voting to repeal it outright, which the House did recently.

Both senators insisted that allowing states to opt out of the law’s restrictive provisions — particularly the mandatory expansion of Medicaid — was necessary to ensure their economic survival. “This is something we can’t afford,” Graham said. “There has to be a better way to insure low-income Americans than putting states like South Carolina into bankruptcy.”

But they were also pretty straightforward as to the ultimate aim of their legislation. Graham said he was confident that, given the opportunity, most states would eagerly embrace the ability to opt out. “What would be the effect of them opting out?” he asked rhetorically. “The bill would fall and we’d have to replace it with something that made more sense . . . quite frankly, that is the goal.”

He was also confident that engaging the health-care debate at the state level would be a winning strategy for Republicans. “The politics of this is without limit,” Graham said. “It takes the debate and it makes it part of every state house race in 2012, it makes it part of every governor’s campaign in 2012, and this is exactly what’s been missing in the past — a robust debate outside of Washington.”

“If states could speak, I am confident that a majority of Americans, through their state legislators, if they had the chance, would opt out of these provisions,” he added. “And we’ll never know until we have that vote.”

So far, vulnerable Democrats up in 2012 have shown no indication that they’d support outright repeal. However, they will be hard pressed to deny their own states the ability to opt out of the law’s unpopular provisions. Republicans still need 13 Democrats to break a filibuster in the Senate, but Graham said he would be relentless in his pursuit of a vote, promising to bring the measure to the floor at every opportunity. “If we’re going to vote on naming a post office this year, we’re going to be voting on this,” he said. 

Andrew Stiles — Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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