Missouri's Proposition C: 'Of No Legal Significance'

"Of no legal significance.” 

That was the response by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs when asked about the Administration's viewpoint on Missouri's Proposition C which passed overwhelmingly on Tuesday. More from The Hill:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs flatly dismissed Missouri's vote Tuesday rejecting a key part of the healthcare law.

Gibbs said Missouri’s vote approving a ballot initiative to exempt residents from the new law requiring individuals to buy health insurance was “of no legal significance.”

Asked what it means that voters in Missouri would vote against the federal mandate, Gibbs said: “Nothing.”

Gibbs is correct that the Missouri vote doesn’t trump federal law, but it has given a boost to those calling on Congress to repeal the healthcare law.

Republicans spent much of Wednesday trumpeting the vote as a victory that sent a message of voter disapproval to the White House.

The Missouri vote was to begin with a low-turnout affair among an electorate dominated by Republican primary voters, conservative activists and Tea Party extremists. It has no legal standing still that's not stopping others from pushing similar referenda in other states.

The measure, a legislatively-referred ballot initiative approved by the Missouri General Assembly during the 2010 regular session, bars the Federal government from mandating that people buy health insurance, and would shield Missourians who do not have insurance from the law’s tax penalty called for under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) signed into law by President Obama earlier this year.

Comparable measures have already been enacted by legislatures in five states — Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana and Virginia — according to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that is pushing the initiatives. Arizona and Oklahoma are scheduled to vote in the November general election on state constitutional amendments to nullify the insurance requirement. A judge in Florida tossed a similar constitutional amendment off that state’s ballot two weeks ago, sayings its language was too overtly political.

Government by referendum is a slippery slope. The United States is a representative democracy and those who are pushing these measures would do well to remember our Constitutional form of government.

Virginia's Challenge to the PPACA to Proceed

A federal judge in Richmond has denied the Department of Justice's motion to dismiss Virginia's lawsuit challenging the health care reform bill passed by Congress. The ruling is only a procedural step but sets the stage for a full hearing with significant Constitutional implications.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli filed the state's lawsuit shortly after President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in March. Cuccinelli is challenging a provision, specifically Section 1501 in the PPACA, that will require individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. Virginia's legislature passed a law earlier this year that prohibits a requirement for individuals to buy health insurance.

In a 32 page decision (pdf), U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson wrote that "although this case is laden with public policy implications and has a distinctive political undercurrent, at this stage the sole issues before the Court are subject matter jurisdiction and the legal sufficiency of the Complaint." Ruling that the existence of the state law "is sufficient to trigger the duty of the Attorney General of Virginia to defend the law and the associated sovereign power to enact it," Judge Hudson has allowed the suit seeking declaratory and injunction relief to proceed.

In his opinion, Judge Hudson summarized:

While this case raises a host of complex constitutional issues, all seem to distill to the single question of whether or not Congress has the power to regulate - and tax - a citizen's decision not to participate in interstate commerce. Neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor any circuit court of appeals have squarely addressed this issue. No reported case from federal appellate court has extended the Commerce Clause or Tax Clause to include the regulation of a person's decision not to purchase a product, notwithstanding its effect on interstate commerce. Given the presence of some authority arguably supporting the theory underlying each side's position, this Court cannot conclude at this stage that the Complaint fails to state a cause of action.

The Secretary's [Kathleen Sebelius is the defendant in this case in her official capacity of HHS Secretary] Motion to Dismiss will therefore be denied. Resolution of the controlling issue in this case must await a hearing on the merits.

A full hearing on Virginia’s lawsuit is scheduled for October and will determine if Virginia has standing to challenge the Federal law.

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Healthcare Reform Gaining Popularity

So says the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll:

The July Health Tracking Poll indicates overall public support for the health reform law is steady from June, while unfavorable views of the law have trended downward. Half the public (50%) now expresses a favorable view of the law, while 35 percent say they have an unfavorable opinion (down from 41% in June).

The poll also took a closer look at the views of seniors since they are often assumed to have a uniform view about issues. Below are some of the poll’s key findings about seniors’ views:

While seniors’ views of the new law are more negative than those of their younger counterparts, they remain roughly split about the law with 46 percent of seniors holding an unfavorable view of the law and 38 percent holding a favorable one. While 35 percent of seniors think they will be worse off under reform, a greater share (57%) say they will be better off (20%) or it will make no difference (37%).

Seniors’ awareness about the specific provisions of the health reform law that affect Medicare is mixed. For example, about half are aware that the new law will result in premium increases for some higher income Medicare beneficiaries (52%) and gradually close Medicare’s “doughnut hole” (50%). However, just a third (33% ) know the law will eliminate Medicare’s co-pays and deductibles for some preventive services.

On the other hand, large shares of seniors mistakenly believe the law includes provisions that cut some previously universal Medicare benefits and creates “death panels.” Half of seniors (50%) say the law will cut benefits that were previously provided to all people on Medicare, and more than a third (36%) incorrectly believe the law will “allow a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare.”

Despite the fact that Medicare’s actuaries predict the health reform law will extend the life of the Medicare Part A Trust Fund by 12 years (from 2017 to 2029), only 14 percent of seniors know this and nearly half (45%) of seniors think the health reform law will weaken the financial condition of the fund.

In general, seniors with a favorable view of the law are more likely to be aware of some of the law’s benefit improvements for Medicare, while those with an unfavorable view are more likely to be aware of increases in taxes and premiums that occur under the law.

More illustrative is the breakdown by political affiliation. Democrats largely favor the Affordable Care Act while independents split 48/37 in favor. It is only among Republicans that there is significant and still hardening opposition. Among Republicans, opposition to the law remained steady at 69 percent, but the intensity of that opposition ticked upward. Fifty-three percent of Republicans said they had a “very unfavorable” opinion of the law this month, up from 50 percent in June.

Quick Hits

Here are some other stories making news today.

The Los Angeles Times U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton says the provision in Arizona's immigration law that makes lacking immigration documents a crime may violate prior rulings that bar states from creating their own immigrant registration systems.

A House committee has filed ethics charges against Rep. Charles Rangel, the former Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. An adjudicatory subcommittee will hold a public organizational meeting on July 29th. The story in The Hill.

The Hutch News of Hutchinson, Kansas has withdrawn its endorsement of Tracey Mann in the GOP Primary in the First Congressional District in Kansas citing his birther views.

Fresh off a weekend jaunt to Maine, President Barack Obama and his family will vacation on the Florida Gulf Coast next month, the White House said Thursday. The Obamas are scheduled to travel to the coast on Aug. 14 and stay the weekend. Expect the right wing to go crazy over another Obama vacation. Just to set the record straight, 18 months in his Presidency George W. Bush had taken 120 days of time off. The Obamas, so far, have taken 65 days of vacation.

The Incidental Economist has a post on why the US spends more on healthcare than any other country. Fee-for-service payment arrangements, which predominate the health care industry, are one of the major factors driving the increased service intensity and thus largely responsible for driving up costs.

Must be a record of some kind. From the Las Vegas Sun: "In the warehouse of a family-owned clean diesel manufacturer in Sparks, Angle delivered a three-minute speech on her desire to permanently repeal the estate tax. When invited by the final speaker to stay and answer a few questions, she turned on her heel and rushed out a back door with a small cadre of staff members."

Army. Lt. Dan Choi, one of the most outspoken critics of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the US Military, has been honorably discharged from the Army. More from CNN.

Jamie Oliver's TED Award Presentation

The British chef and food educator Jamie Oliver, perhaps best known for his BBC show The Naked Chef won the annual TED Award for his work on fighting obesity in Huntington, West Virginia. He minces onions but not his words. The TED Prize is awarded annually to an exceptional individual who receives $100,000 and, much more important, "One Wish to Change the World." Here's his TED wish:

"I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”

The Plan:

Set up an organization to create a popular movement that will inspire people to change the way they eat. The movement will do this by establishing a network of community kitchens; launching a travelling food theater that will teach kids practical food and cooking skills in an entertaining way and provide basic training for parents and professionals; and bringing millions of people together through an online community to drive the fight against obesity. The grassroots movement must also challenge corporate America to support meaningful programs that will change the culture of junk food.

You can sign a petition and join Jamie's Food Revolution.

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