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Counterpoint: Unfunded mandate unfair



Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is leading the legal battle being waged to prevent the implementation of the newly minted national health care bill. Arguing against the constitutionality of the legislation, McCollum has been joined by 12 other attorneys general in joining the fight to halt the mandate on states across the country.

The issue has been brought up in Oklahoma as gubernatorial candidates trade jabs on whether or not Oklahoma should join the legal fight being waged.

Congresswoman Mary Fallin, a Republican representing the 5th District, released a statement this week that chided Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson for even taking time to review the bill before joining the legal fight. Fallin cites the Oklahoma state Legislature's opt-out bill as cause for Oklahoma joining the litigation.

However, the state Legislature may need to defer to Edmondson on this one.
State's attorneys general attempting to prevent the implementation of the health care bill are suing over constitutional grounds, arguing the legislation is an "unprecedented encroachment on the liberty of individuals," according to the suit, and that the Constitution does not authorize the mandate of penalizing individuals who do not secure health insurance for themselves.

While the argument may have merit, many legal scholars question the validity of their position. However, the political mileage from filing suit likely outweighs any need to convey a good faith legal argument.

According to a March 25 Rasmussen Reports poll, 55 percent of the nation favors repealing the bill that President Obama signed into law last Tuesday. In another poll by Rasmussen, 54 percent of Florida voters favored the lawsuit filed by McCollum in his attempt to prevent the implementation of reforms in his state.

Forming a concrete opinion on the merit and benefit of the new health care law is difficult at this time. Such wide sweeping legislation can't be judged or critically reviewed until its effects have been measured over time. However, there is concern by employers that the bill will have an immediate impact on businesses in Oklahoma if it does, in fact, lead to tax increases, increased debtload as a result of its significant budgetary liability and potential unfunded mandatespassed on to the states.

Congresswoman Fallin has alleged that the law could impose hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded mandates on the state. At a time when Oklahoma isn't meeting its current obligations to teacher's retirement and insurance, roads and bridges, public safety, infrastructure and social services, another unfunded mandate by the federal government seems, if not unconstitutional, just plain unfair. Don't they know in Washington, D.C., what we're dealing with here?

There's a dichotomy of sorts occurring with this issue. On one hand, there is a real need for reform as it relates to health care in this country. On the other hand, many believe we have the best health care system in the world. Attempting to meld these conflicting points is the heart of this debate, and how we as a state react to the passage of the legislation is at the heart of a debate now being quietly waged between everyone from gubernatorial candidates to coffee shop baristas.

I would love to see the U.S. Supreme Court take up the legal question of whether or not the federal government may mandate health insurance. If Edmondson determines that such a suit is not frivolous and elects to join the other states in the suit, I would support him wholeheartedly and so would a majority of Oklahomans, I'm sure, which may be the last thing Fallin wants.

Smith is an attorney living in OKC.

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