By Patrick B. McGuigan
Kenneth Cuccinelli, attorney general of the Commonwealth of Virginia, said his battle against the federal health care legislation, widely termed “ObamaCare,” is a battle for the meaning of federalism itself. He discussed the controversial law during a visit to Oklahoma in support of former state Sen. Scott Pruitt of Broken Arrow, the Republican nominee for attorney general.
The law passed earlier this year violates constitutional provisions dividing power between levels of government, he said. In discussions with reporters, he contended the individual mandate forcing individuals to purchase health insurance coverage or face penalties is unprecedented.
He said, “It is beyond the power of Congress and the federal government to mandate this activity. … Nothing like this law has even been done in the history of the United States. It is unprecedented in its scope and impact on the Constitution and relationship between the federal and state governments.
“Never before has the government presumed the authority to tell Americans, force them, to buy a product. The law was passed under the guise of the commerce powers. It’s a twisting of the federal power for the government to regulate inactivity as if it were activity.”
Cuccinelli made his comments in a state Capitol press conference yesterday (Monday, October 25) where he also endorsed former state Sen. Scott Pruitt, the Republican nominee to replace Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
Cuccinelli contended, “This is not about health insurance but about liberty. If the case is lost, it will be the end of federalism as we have known it.”
Pruitt told reporters he would, if elected the state’s top legal officer, join the Virginia or Florida cases now underway, or consider filing a new lawsuit on the matter. Cuccinelli explained, “The entire bill is at stake. We’ve asked the court to enjoin the entire bill. A ruling is expected in Virginia in December.”
Defending the litigation, the Virginian said the attorneys general of the American states are “the last line of defense. It’s the AGs who legitimately exercise authority versus the federal government. In the federalist structure they are the best line of defense to push back against federal authority that is excessive. In this case, Scott Pruitt is the most qualified candidate. The protection of the rule of law is a fight to protect the opportunity of all of us. Regulations always impair opportunity and reduce liberty. This litigation is fighting against excessive impairment and reduction of liberty.”
Cuccinelli said Pruitt “will be the first line of defense for Oklahoma, and an ally for the Constitution.” He also asserted, “The issue is bigger than health care. If the feds have the power to require us to buy a product, where does it end?”
Pruitt is facing Jim Priest, an Oklahoma City attorney, the Democratic party’s hopeful. In his comments, Pruitt reiterated his intention to establish a “federalism unit” in the state attorney general’s office.
Concerning other possible actions against federal encroachment, he pointed to recently announced intentions for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate dust produced in farming processes. Pruitt stressed, “Although issues of federalism are important, there are other matters that a crucial and those will not be dismissed or ignored.”
Cuccinelli repeated estimates that implementation of “ObamaCare” in Oklahoma could cost $500 million to implement over seven years. Based on his own office’s experience, he supported Pruitt’s estimate that costs for involvement in such litigation would be low: “It is not a trial, there are no witnesses and there will be no need to take depositions. The issues involved are not Republican or Democrat.”
Responding to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Cuccinelli noted Attorney General Edmondson had “joined our brief on greenhouse gases.” He quipped he had worked with Edmondson in “a group that has my favorite acronym – NAAG (National Association of Attorneys General).”
Pruitt, responding to a question from CapitolBeatOK, said legislative experience is at least as significant as other kinds of experience as a preparation for the attorney general’s job. He said, “How do you put a dollar value on legislative experience? Of course it is important. Having an attorney general who has actually participated in the process of making laws is crucial.”
Cuccinelli also encouraged support for State Question 756 on next week’s general election ballot in the Sooner State: “You have two governments contending. The statute on the ballot in eight days is important, as it represents the dignity of the sovereign, the state of Oklahoma in this case.”
The ballot question would enact a state constitutional “opt out” provision allowing the state to step aside from the new federal law and its mandates.
Some of the legal analysis presented in the press briefing focused on the lack of a severability clause in the federal legislation, meaning that if anyone provision in law is found invalid, the entire bill could collapse. Cuccinelli explained: “The supporters have called the individual mandate ‘the linchpin’ of the legislation. This bill never went to a committee.”
Virginia was the first state to challenge the federal law. The lawsuit is pending before Judge Henry Hudson, a federal district judge in the Commonwealth. Oklahoma could, if next week’s measure prevails, be the next state to challenge the bill.
In a statement circulated after the press conference, Cuccinelli declared “Now more than ever we need attorneys general across this nation, who understand it is the responsibility of AGs to protect citizens against the overreach of Washington D.C. policies that have put a choke hold on our economic vitality and fundamental liberties.”
Pruitt said, “The practical reality is state Medicaid services costs Oklahomans more than $1 billion annually in taxes,” and “ObamaCare” would add millions more in costs.
Pruitt noted that last week Boeing, which employs hundreds in the state, announced it would cut benefits and increase out-of-pocket expenses for workers due to the new law’s costs. Concerning the recent moves to expand federal power into areas traditionally left to markets or to the states, he concluded, “I assure you from Altus to Woodward to Claremore it is the number one concern of the Oklahomans I meet as I cross the state.”