Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is joining 12 other attorneys general from across the United States to challenge the constitutionality of the health care package signed into law by President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
The lawsuit was filed in Pensacola, Fla., just seven minutes after Obama signed the 10-year, $938 billion bill into law.
The bill requires the estimated 30 million uninsured Americans to eventually receive health insurance through their employers or to buy coverage for themselves.
"This is the first time in American history where American citizens will be forced to buy a particular good or service," said Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, who is also president of the National Association of Attorneys General, explaining why his state joined the lawsuit.
The plan's provisions will be phased in over four years, and it is expected to expand coverage to about 94 percent of eligible non-elderly Americans, compared with 83 percent today.
"We have now just enshrined the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health," Obama said at a signing ceremony at the White House. "We are not a nation that scales back its aspirations. We are not a nation that falls prey to doubt or mistrust. That's not who we are. That's not how we got here."
Obama's signing of the bill caps a yearlong, divisive debate that could shape the November congressional elections.
Democrats said Abbott is simply playing politics by joining the other states in the lawsuit. A spokesman for a group that is affiliated with the Democratic Party, and pushed for health care reform, said Tuesday the lawsuit is simply a theme for the Republican re-election campaigns of Abbott and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Hector Nieto of the Texas branch of Organizing for America said Abbott and Perry are standing in the way of progress by opposing the new law.
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After the bill was signed into law, Abbott released the following statement:
The bipartisan legal challenge explains that the new law infringes upon Americans' constitutionally protected individual liberties; encroaches upon the states' constitutionally guaranteed sovereignty; forces states to spend billions of additional dollars on entitlement programs; imposes an unconstitutional tax; and violates the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Under the new law, for the first time in the nation's history, the federal government is attempting to force individual Americans to enter into contracts and purchase services from private companies-in this case, insurance companies-or face a penalty. The state attorneys general are challenging this so-called individual mandate requirement, explaining that such an imposition on the American people exceeds Congress' authority and violates Americans' constitutional rights. Additionally, the states are challenging provisions of the new law that will impose dramatic Medicaid spending increases on the states-including more than $24 billion in mandatory spending increases in the State of Texas.
The federal health care legislation signed today violates the United States Constitution and unconstitutionally infringes upon Texans' individual liberties," Attorney General Abbott said. "No public policy goal--no matter how important or well-intentioned--can be allowed to trample the protections and rights guaranteed by our Constitution. To protect all Texans' constitutional rights, preserve the constitutional framework intended by our nation's founders, and defend our state from further infringement by the federal government, the State of Texas and other states have filed a legal challenge seeking judgment from the courts that the federal health care take over is unconstitutional."
The thirteen-state coalition, which includes Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Washington, Colorado, Michigan, Utah, Alabama, South Dakota, and Idaho, filed its legal challenge in the Federal District Court in the Northern District of Florida. It was filed shortly after President Barack Obama signed the bill into law. The legal action specifically challenges the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and names the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Labor as defendants because those federal agencies are charged with implementing the Act's constitutionally impermissible provisions.
Encroachment on Individual Liberties
According to the states' legal action, the federal health care bill violates both Article I and the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: "The Act represents an unprecedented encroachment on the liberty of individuals living in the Plaintiffs' respective states, by mandating that all citizens and legal residents of the United States have qualifying healthcare coverage or pay a tax penalty. The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying healthcare coverage. By imposing such a mandate, the Act exceeds the powers of the United States under Article I of the Constitution and violates the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution."
Explaining why the individual mandate is unconstitutional, Attorney General Abbott said: "Our nation's founding fathers had the wisdom to limit the federal government's authority by specifically enumerating the powers given to Congress. Today, the federal government is attempting an unconstitutional power-grab-and relying upon Congress' authority to regulate Commerce to justify their unprecedented overreach. If there are to be any limitations on the federal government then 'Commerce' cannot be twisted to cover every possible human activity under the sun-including mere human existence. The act of doing absolutely nothing does not constitute an act of commerce, and today's legal challenge reflects the states' attempt to preserve the individual liberties that were intended by our founders and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution."
Removes States' Discretion
The states also charge that the Act "converts what had been a voluntary federal-state partnership into a compulsory top-down federal program." As a result, the Act effectively removes the states' discretion and constitutes a "derogation of the core constitutional principle of federalism upon which this Nation was founded...[and] exceeds the powers of the United States and violates the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution."
Unprecedented Encroachment on State Sovereignty
Further, the multi-state lawsuit explains that the federal health care law "represents an unprecedented encroachment on the sovereignty of the states" by imposing new federal Medicaid enrollment standards. According to the Texas Health & Human Services Commission, the Act will double the number of Medicaid recipients and therefore force the Texas taxpayers to spend an additional $24.3 billion on Medicaid over the next 10 years. In addition to dramatic spending increases, the new law will shift substantial administrative costs to the states and therefore requires that state employees and agencies devote considerable time and resources to implementing the Act. The lawsuit also cites "several unfunded mandates that will cost state governments significantly."
Finally, the states allege that the Act imposes an unconstitutional tax on the American people. According to the states' legal action, "the tax penalty required under the Act, which must be paid by uninsured citizens and residents, constitutes an unlawful capitation or direct tax, in violation of Article I, sections 2 and 9 of the Constitution of the United States."
Experts said the effort by Abbott and the other 12 attorneys general will likely fail because the U.S. Constitution states that federal law supersedes state laws, but the legal challenge may keep the issue fresh in the mind of voters come November.