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Gregoire denounces AG’s plan to sue over health care

McKenna (Richard Roesler / The Spokesman-Review)
McKenna (Richard Roesler / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA — Washington’s Republican attorney general will join other states in a lawsuit against the federal health care reform plan, a move its Democratic governor denounced as “not representing the people of this state.”

Attorney General Rob McKenna said Monday afternoon he would join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform package passed Sunday by Congress and soon to be signed by President Obama.

“I believe this new federal health care measure unconstitutionally imposes new requirements on our state and on its citizens,” McKenna said in a statement released by his office about 1 p.m. “This unprecedented federal mandate, requiring all Washingtonians to purchase health insurance, violates the Commerce Clause and the 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The 10th Amendment says powers not listed in the Constitution, or prohibited for the states, are left to the states and the people. That amendment is the one most often cited by proponents of greater sovereignty by the states, on everything from health care reform to gun rights to tax collection.

The bill places “an extraordinary burden” on the state budget by expanding its Medicaid eligibility standards, he said in the press release.

An hour later, a visibly irate Gov. Chris Gregoire said she “totally disagrees” with McKenna’s decision, which she didn’t know about until reading a news account. She said she then called him to discuss it.

“I don’t know who he’s representing,” Gregoire said. McKenna is not representing her, the people who will be added to the state’s Basic Health Plan or the doctors and hospitals who will have larger Medicare reimbursement payments because of the new federal plan.

The attorney general’s office may need to assign an attorney to represent her “because I totally oppose what he’s doing,” Gregoire said.

The governor and attorney general offices are constitutionally separate, in Washington, and each is elected separately by voters every four years. McKenna has been mentioned as the GOP’s favorite pick to run for governor in 2012, and Gregoire has not ruled out a run for a third term in the top spot. Gregoire was attorney general before she was governor.

As attorney general, Gregoire did sue the federal government over cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. When reminded of that by reporters, Gregoire said there was a major difference: The governor at the time, Gary Locke, wanted her to take on the government on that score.

“I don’t buy the legal theory, either,” Gregoire said. Because she’s not a practicing attorney, she did talk to her legal adviser about it and has questions about it. “I’ll leave that to the lawyers to sort out.”

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