AUGUSTA -- Gov.-elect Paul LePage's recent statement about a process for overturning health care reform prompted a clarification Monday, in response to criticism.
LePage was quoted Sunday by MaineToday Media saying that he believes Maine should join a multi-state lawsuit challenging the federal health care reform law, and that he had learned that if 35 states join the lawsuit, the law "dies, automatically."
But no such provision exists in statute or the U.S. Constitution.
LePage's spokesman Dan Demeritt issued a written statement Monday saying the governor-elect believes that if enough states oppose the law, it will have the effect of killing it politically.
"His intent was to discuss the concept of broad-based political opposition, rather than a nonexistent statutory or constitutional trigger," Demeritt said.
Demeritt said LePage was referring to the introduction of a possible constitutional amendment to allow any provision of federal law or rule to be repealed if at least 35 states object to its implementation.
The measure was introduced in Congress on Nov. 30 by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
Bishop is chairman of the 10th Amendment Task Force, created this year by members of Congress who consider themselves states' rights conservatives, all of whom represent districts in the South and West.
The 10th Amendment to the Constitution says that powers not specifically given to the federal government, or specifically prohibited from the states, belong to the states.
It's designed as a check on federal authority.
Bishop's group believes the federal government should not interfere in matters that are within the purview of the states. Its mission is to "disperse power from Washington and restore the constitutional balance of power through liberty-enhancing federalism," according to its website.
A strong conservative and Republican issue, and one with health care reform as a prime target, the Repeal Amendment is viewed dimly by Democratic members of Congress such as Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine.
"It's just outrageous to propose amending the Constitution to strip away the health care rights we've finally established for people in this country," she said Monday. "If changes are needed to improve the law, let's work together to make them. But we can do it without wasting the work we've done and without going back to the days when insurance companies could deny you for pre-existing conditions or drop coverage when you get sick."
Randy Barnett, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University and a senior fellow of the Cato Institute, is credited with conceiving the concept of the Repeal Amendment, and argues that it would restore the balance between state and federal power contained in the original Constitution.
In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 16, Barnett described it as a method of allowing "thousands of democratically elected representatives outside the Beltway to check the will of 535 elected representatives in Washington, D.C."
It has gotten a great deal of press attention in recent weeks as Republicans who have been elected to statewide positions -- such as LePage -- prepare to take office.
LePage's comments, however, drew criticism in some circles -- particularly national political blogs -- as showing a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. Constitution.
Demeritt said Monday that LePage knows the state repeal is just a proposal, and did not intend to give the impression that it now exists.
"Gov.-elect LePage understands there are proposals to give states the ability to repeal federal mandates," he said. "He considers them important items to consider."
Passing a constitutional amendment is a long and difficult process. The Constitution stipulates that the Senate and the House must pass a bill by a two-thirds majorities.
Once a bill has passed in both chambers, it needs approval from two-thirds of the Legislatures of the states.
Supporters of an amendment have seven years after its introduction to get it passed.
Copyright (c) 2010, Portland Press Herald, Maine
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