Oklahoma is joining more than 10 other states suing the federal government.
Less than 24 hours after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a national overhaul of health care, Oklahoma's Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro Tem asked the state attorney general to file a suit against the federal government and challenge the constitutionality of the legislation, in a press conference at the state Capitol.
With more than 40 Republican senators and representatives, Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, and Sen. Glenn Coffee, R- Oklahoma City, discussed why they felt Oklahoma should sue the federal government.
"This is a very important event and a very important time in our country," Benge said. "Just because Congress passes a bill into a law does not make it constitutional. We have every right, as a state, to challenge to the constitutionality of this bill, of this law."
In a joint letter from Coffee and Benge, both lawmakers urge Attorney General Drew Edmondson to file a lawsuit against "Obamacare."
"As Attorney General for the State of Oklahoma, you are in a unique position to seek redress against the federal government. We urge you and your staff to immediately begin preparations to file suit in the U.S. District Court on behalf of our state to challenge the constitutionality of yesterday's enactment," the letter stated.
Some of the provisions of the bill the legislature believes to be unconstitutional include:
" requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance, and fining or jailing them if they don't;
" special arrangements for states contained in a reconciled version of the legislation (Louisiana and Florida); and
" the requirement that states establish benefit exchanges, which according to the letter, runs counter to constitutional limitations that forbid the federal government from commandeering any branch of state government to administer a federal program.
"This is a sad day for America," Coffee said. "We have never seen anything like this before. Drastic times call for drastic measures."
The newly passed law would cost the state an estimated $1 billion in the next 10 years for new spending, causing the state to raise taxes or lose teachers, corrections officers, state troopers and firefighters, among others, Coffee said.
With the health care law, the federal government has ignored state-led efforts in health care, such as Insure Oklahoma, Benge said.
"Oklahomans knows what's best for Oklahomans. We do not appreciate the top-down, heavy-handed approach of the federal government, and we are going to do everything in our power to try to stop this," Benge said.
Coffee said if the attorney general does not file a suit against the federal government, the Legislature will find and use any other way to try to stop the law, and the opt-out legislation will continue to go forward.
Attorney General Drew Edmondson issued the following statement:
"More than two months ago I told Congress that Oklahoma and several other states have serious concerns with the federal health care bill," Edmondson said. "Our office joined other attorneys general offices from around the country on a conference call just yesterday to discuss ideas and legal strategies to protect our states from unwanted federal intrusion that potentially places us at a disadvantage. We are reviewing applicable statutes and case law to determine the best course of action.
"We will continue to share information with our colleagues as we monitor the progress of the reconciliation bill being considered by the Senate. Should the final product contain constitutional infirmities that adversely impact the states and are not otherwise being addressed, we will consider appropriate legal action."