Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Health care amicus brief latest example of GOP’s small-tent politics

Republican legislators put an exclamation mark on their week of small-tent politics by announcing this noon that they have filed an amicus brief supporting 26 states that are claiming that federal health care reforms signed into law last year are unconstitutional.

Oh, what a week it’s been for the GOP.

They’ve pushed an amendment through the Senate that would restrict marriage to a man and a woman. They’ve pushed their photo ID amendment. They’ve passed legislation that would limit abortion. They’ve weakened gun laws, much to the chagrin of police officers and county attorneys.

And now, today’s big announcement: an amicus brief going after the nation’s new health care reform law.

Think back a few months ago, only a short time after Republicans had swept into control of the House and Senate.

Agenda has shifted
“I am a social conservative, but we’ve had a conversation with the caucus,” Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said at the time. “They ran on the budget, the economy and jobs. We talked about how this is not the time to be messing around [with social issues]. We’re going to be unified on that.”

Not only is it clear that the Republicans have long forgotten that focus, but it’s also growing more evident that they’ve got troubles within their own caucus: Who’s in charge? Such leaders as Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers? Or a combo package of social and fiscal conservatives, many of whom are in their first terms?

In the last few days, some of the most fiscally conservative members of the caucus have started wearing little penny lapel pins. Those are to signify “not one penny more” than $34 billion in the final state budget settlement.

Even if there are cooler heads in the official Republican legislative power structure, it’s clear there’s a real fear of taking on those fiscal conservatives.

Obviously, there’s not much heart for slowing down the agenda of the social conservatives, either.

And now, today, this strange announcement, made by Reps. Doug Wardlow of Eagan and Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake as well as Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen. The move is supported by 92 Minnesota Republican legislators who have signed onto the amicus brief opposing “Obamacare’s usurpation of state sovereignty.”

Rep. Doug Wardlow
Rep. Doug Wardlow

On the surface, this may appear to be merely a symbolic bow to the issue that created the Tea Party and helped lead to November’s takeover of the Legislature. The brief is filed with the 11th Circuit of the Court of Appeals. North Carolina legislators joined with the Minnesota Republicans in opposing provisions of the federal health care act.

But it’s possible to see more than symbolism in this action.

With only nine days left in the session, this action seems to create another huge obstacle between the governor, who embraces the federal health care reforms, and House and Senate leaders who tonight are to reconcile in conference committee a Human Services bill that will be filled with language and policy opposing all aspects of the federal reforms.

The health care issue doesn’t just divide DFLers and Republicans.  There are aspects of the program that even divide Republicans and some of their most ardent supporters.

For example, the hard-line Tea Party members of the new majority don’t want anything to do with “insurance exchanges” that are of fundamental importance to both state and federal reforms. (Exchanges are supposed to be one-stop shopping areas for people looking to purchase insurance.)

Business groups support health exchanges
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership want the exchanges for the state.  Some members of the caucus, therefore, want the exchanges. But are they willing to cross over and vote with DFLers?

So rather than becoming clearer, the plot is becoming thicker.

At today’s news event, the Republican legislators insisted that their fight against federal health care wasn’t just some sort of frivolous trip down strange political lanes.  

Yes, the big issue is the U.S. Constitution and state sovereignty.

“We all take an oath to defend the Constitution of the country and the state,” said Wardlow.

He said if the Supreme Court ultimately rules in favor of the federal health care reform mandates, “the state legislatures might as well fold up shop and go home. We’d no longer have the power to do anything.”

But the three Republicans also claimed that this fight is also about the state budget.

Federal health care reforms ultimately will be hugely expensive for Minnesota, they argued.

DFLers took an opposing view, claiming that already Dayton’s embrace of aspects of the federal reforms will save Minnesota “$1 billion in the next couple of years.”

But mostly DFLers took shots at the focus of the GOP in recent days.

“We’ve seen a failure of leadership to come together with a joint budget proposal,” said Rep. Tom Huntley of Duluth.

It does seem that the Republicans have headed in directions they once vowed they wouldn’t head. But it’s hard to know if that really matters to them.

Jim Meffert, the failed DFL candidate in the race against incumbent Erik Paulsen in the 3rd Congressional District, noted that DFLers and Dayton, as well as the GOP-led Legislature, are in vastly different places than in the years when Pawlenty was governor and the DFL ruled in the Legislature.  

“There was a fundamentally different dynamic at play,” said  Meffert.  “Pawlenty didn’t want government to do anything. If nothing happened, he won. Dayton wants government to accomplish things. If nothing happens, he loses.”  

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/12/2011 - 05:00 pm.

    Hypocrisy, is now spelled…


    (and even THEY can’t come up with an honest and accurate, “cuts-only” balanced budget).

    Regarding “if nothing happens…”

    If Nothing happens, the state government shuts down and the state population blames the Republicans for refusing to compromise..

    (Gov. Dayton having already established his willingness to compromise with THEM on some small issues that some of us who support him wish he hadn’t).

    If, indeed the government shuts down, I suspect our state Republican leadership will NOT be able to mask their giddiness and glee at all the money that’s not being paid out (and prove, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that they could care less about anyone, even their own supporters, who is being harmed).

    The handwriting will be on the wall, but, by showing their true colors, the Republicans will have written it there in mile-high letters.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/12/2011 - 07:41 pm.

    Preaching largely to the choir on this site, but it’s hard not to notice that job-creating legislation has been notably absent recently. So has a budget. The radical right is in the process of betraying much of what previous generations worked and fought and sweated to accomplish. In its place is a race not just to the bottom, but to the early 19th century. Missing from this amicus involvement in the suit against health care reform is an alternative that will similarly fill the same need. If the multi-state suit is successful, what will Republicans do about the many thousands in Minnesota, the many millions across the country, who have no health care coverage at all save an overworked emergency room?

    I think Jim Meffert is, sadly, right on target.

    My suspicion is that, if Mr. Zellers and Ms. Koch were asked in a public setting to provide an alternative health care plan they couldn’t do it. It’s not about health care.

    It’s not even about how to best serve the public interest. Serving the public interest would have produced a budget by now – any budget – so that there was some prospect of negotiation between the GOP-dominated legislature and the DFL Governor. With 9 days left in the session and no budget in sight, at least publicly, the prospects for successful negotiation are slim, indeed, and we’re right back where Jim Meffert suggests. This is a Republican bully in mid-shoving match. If the government does nothing, that bullying will have won a childish face-off with serious, grown-up consequences that will largely fall on non-Republicans. Yes, in doing so, the Governor loses, at least in the short term, but so do most Minnesotans. And none of it is truly necessary.

    My personal hope is that the people and forces driving this retreat from civilization will have used the rope they won in 2010 to hang themselves and the Republican party. If I’m right, there are going to be some grim times. If I’m wrong, those grim times will be with us for quite a while.

    Just don’t get sick or hurt. You’ll be on your own.

  3. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 05/12/2011 - 10:48 pm.

    The explanation for this make-everything-worse weirdness should be obvious:

    Aliens who want to weaken and then dominate earthlings have invaded the Republicans’ bodies and seized control of their minds.

  4. Submitted by Susan White on 05/13/2011 - 08:50 am.

    There will be a big surprise when the US SC finally rules on the health care law. The winning issue will be protecting the health care system from free loaders (those with no health insurance who show up at hospitals for treatment) by requiring everyone to habe insurance. An obvious fit within the Commerce Clause. Scalia will love it. The 11th Circuit will go for it, too.

  5. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 05/13/2011 - 08:53 am.

    I am reading The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman which concerns the many self-defeating positions and groups have taken over the centuries. An example would be the medievil popes who’s actions and attitudes provided the fuel to ignite the protestant revolution. I see that in much of what is happening now. I think the Republican lemmings are being driven toward the cliff by the tea party (formerly the John Birch Society). The professional Pols used this connection to get elected and they can’t bail out no matter how insane it is. And all these first-term tea party types don’t care. They hate the goverment, so anything to reduce the goverment is good to them. As in Wisconsin, they just want to ram their agenda through no matter what the cost. They haven’t been in office long enough to care about reelection so they are acting within their ideological purity. To them compromise is hypocrisy.

  6. Submitted by Dagny Train on 05/13/2011 - 10:08 am.

    Since I like preaching to the unconverted, rather than the choir:
    Ever wonder WHY health care costs have gone up so much in the last 60-70 years?
    Complex, of course. Malpractice judgments, and the Federal Reserve’s deliberate devaluation of the dollar (AKA 2% inflation target), of course, but it’s also the infusion of tax dollars chasing the limited good of health care.
    So, as a conservative (not so much Republican), here’s my proposal: pull the govt completely out of providing health care or coverage and watch prices crash. Tell people they can put money into an account for health care expenses, pre-tax and tax-free on any interest earned, and tell them they’re responsible for themselves and their incapacitated family members, and tell the Church it’s responsible to watch out for those who fall through the cracks in the family social net, and watch people become surprisingly smart about their health and how to care for it.
    Republicans and conservatives are not heartless ideologues any more than you all posting here are America-hating socialists. They just think there are better ways to solve problems than your ways. Nothing personal.

  7. Submitted by Cecil North on 05/13/2011 - 04:09 pm.

    @ Dagny, here’s an even better idea: let’s just ban the practice of medicine altogether. That way, It’ll cost zero!

  8. Submitted by Joel Jensen on 05/13/2011 - 09:03 pm.

    We pay more (substantially more) and get less than any comparable country, even when measuring their universal coverage to our coverage that leaves tens of millions without health care coverage. So is “magic market dust” the answer? It would appear the answer to that is not.

    We already spend more in private health care expenditures than most comparable countries do in their public, governmental, expenditures, yet our costs are much higher.

    As a percentage of GDP for 2008, America spent more in private exependitures (8.5%) on health care than most OECD countries spent on public (govt) expenditures even though they all offer universal coverage. (Only France’s public expenditures as a share of GDP (8.7%) exceeds our private share.)

    Yet on a per capita basis, America’s total health care costs are almost double the average and exceed the next highest country, Norway, by over 50%. (Even though Norway’s GDP per capita is about 20% higher than ours.)

    As a share of GDP, our total health expenditures for that year were 16% of GDP. The next hightest was 11.3% (again, for universal coverage.)

    For reference, 5% of the projected GDP for 2011 would be equal to about 1/2 the currently projected deficit.

    For future years starting with 2014, 5% of the projected GDP would generally exceed the projected deficit projected under the President’s budget through 2021.

    So, we could learn from the experience of others, or we could play fruitbasket upset (cutting off all Medicare, Veterans health programs, Medicaid (including nursing home coverage that pays for over 1/2 of all nursing home days), childrens’ health care programs etc and send all of our citizens out to individually “bargain” for their insurance and health care on an “equal and arms-length basis” with the anti-trust exempted health insurance companies*, the Doctors, Hospitals and Nursing Homes etc.

    What a magnificent human sacrifice that would be to the gods of the invisible hand.

    *I believe it was Adam Smith that said something along the lines of “Monopoly … is a great enemy of good management.”

  9. Submitted by will lynott on 05/14/2011 - 02:11 pm.

    I think I’m wasting my time, but, okay, I’ll play. Let’s see, now:

    “Ever wonder WHY health care costs have gone up so much in the last 60-70 years?”

    No, it’s pretty obvious, and malpractice awards (a talking point, not a real issue) have little to do with it. It’s much more about increased longevity, new (and expensive) drugs and medical technology, and higher expectations among patients and their doctors.

    Pull the government out of health care, eh? Okay, no more VA benefits for soldiers, no more cadillac plans for congress, no more Medicare and Medicaid, no more Social Security disability. Try it. I dare you.

    Tell people they can put money into an account? Right. When they’re un- or underemployed and are lucky if they can pay the rent from month to month. Such accounts would necessarily be high deductible accounts, meaning people would have to pay the first $5000 or whatever. Kid gets a broken arm, needs a tooth filled, gets in a car crash? Hope they’ve got a lot of spare cash lying around. Have YOU ever wondered why so many people in this country are uninsured?

    This is not sound medical care policy. This is ideological claptrap. Not even Paul Ryan is going to get his Medicare revamp, because not even the people who voted for him will stand for it. Your nonsense would be laughed out of Congress.

    “Republicans and conservatives are not heartless ideologues…”

    Not all–just most.

  10. Submitted by Eric Larsson on 05/14/2011 - 09:05 pm.

    Looks like the south is going to win the War Between the States after all.

Leave a Reply