- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Seven in

Seven Republican state attorneys general are working together to levy a constitutional challenge against the Senate health care bill.

Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham, both South Carolina Republicans, started the effort by requesting their state’s attorney general, Henry McMaster, review a provision in the bill exempting the state of Nebraska from paying its share of Medicaid expansion costs.

It is widely believed that this was done to entice Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, to vote for the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has conceded that the provision was at least a “minor point” in getting Mr. Nelson to support the legislation.

The Republican lawmakers say the move is unfair to taxpayers in other states and unconstitutionally denies them equal protection of the law.

“While South Carolina has to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with the massive new federal mandate, Nebraska does not have to come up with a single dollar,” Mr. DeMint and Mr. Graham complained in their letter to Mr. McMaster.

Now, the attorneys general of Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, North Dakota, Texas and Washington are also looking into what has been called the “Cornhusker Kickback.”

“This is a matter of law for the states’ attorneys general,” Mr. McMaster said in an appearance on Fox News on Monday. “We have banded together many times to address issues like this, but this one’s off the scale. Nobody has seen as blatant vote-buying, using the people’s money to such an extreme with no excuse at all and no rational basis for it, just saying that it was necessary to get the man’s vote. That’s not the kind of reason that the Constitution allows.”

Quoted

“You’ll find a number of states that are treated differently than other states. That’s what legislating is all about. It’s compromise.”

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a press conference after the health-care bill, with the Nebraska Medicaid provision, passed earlier this month

Nelson tanks

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, may have struck a great deal for his state, but a new poll shows Nebraskans are rejecting it.

A Rasmussen poll released on Tuesday found only 17 percent of Nebraskans approve of the Medicaid benefit provided to their state in exchange for Mr. Nelson’s vote. And, most Nebraskans, 64 percent, oppose the legislation overall.

Also, Mr. Nelson fares very poorly in a match-up against Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, for his 2012 Senate re-election. If the election were held today, according to the poll, Mr. Heineman would beat Mr. Nelson overwhelmingly, 61 percent to 30 percent.

CBO score

Although the “Cornhusker Kickback” has received the most attention, two other states received greater Medicaid benefits in the legislation.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated Medicaid benefits provided to Nebraska, Vermont and Massachusetts will cost taxpayers $1.2 billion over the next ten years, with Nebraska ironically getting the smallest share of that money.

According to the CBO, $100 million of that will go to Nebraska, $500 million to Massachusetts and $600 million to Vermont.

This makes one wonder - even the logic of vote-buying has limited application here. Massachusetts has two liberal Democratic senators and Vermont has one. Vermont’s other senator - independent Bernard Sanders - did need some persuading, although he is a self-described socialist who thought the bill wasn’t liberal enough because it lacked a public-option insurance plan.

Another problem

Another provision slipped into the health care bill is getting a healthy dose of criticism from Republicans and other groups.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat, added language to the bill requiring construction companies with as few as five employees to provide health care or be fined $750 per employee as a penalty for not doing so. Similar rules don’t apply for companies in others industries unless those employers have 50 or more employees.

Mr. Merkley thinks this will create “fair competition for construction firms.” Information posted on his Web site says the provision “establishes that firms of five or more employees that don’t provide health care will participate in a shared responsibility provision.”

Mr. Merkley’s amendment was endorsed by some organizations like the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association and Mechanical Contractors Association of America, but others are pushing back.

The National Association of Home Builders fired off a statement Monday, calling it “an unprecedented assault on the construction industry.” NAHB Chairman Joe Robson said it “unjustly targets an industry trying to keep its doors open during the worst housing downturn since the Great Depression” and “if enacted into law, it would prove to be catastrophic for the home building industry.”

Similarly, the Senate’s Republican Policy Committee issued a backgrounder on Monday about the amendment saying it “punishes” workers at small firms and amounts to a “give-away to unions.” The Republican Party argues that requiring small construction companies to provide health care or pay fines limits their competitiveness with bigger, unionized companies.

Amanda Carpenter can be reached at [email protected]

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