National Press Club

S.C. Attorney General Raises Concerns about Health Bill

January 15, 2010 | By Mark Schoeff Jr. |

Making deals to secure votes for legislation is a law of political compromise but it is not codified in the Constitution, according to one of the state leaders who is urging Congress to remove a provision of the Senate health care bill that benefits only Nebraska.

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster contends that one element of the massive bill -- an agreement to have the federal government pick up the entire cost of Medicaid expansion in Nebraska -- was inserted solely to secure the vote of Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.

“That is not a reason that is recognized by the Constitution as legitimate,” McMaster said at a Jan. 13 Newsmaker.

Nelson became a key figure prior to Senate approval of the bill on Dec. 24. With Nelson’s support, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reached the 60-vote plateau required to overcome a Republican filibuster.

McMaster and 13 other Republican state attorneys general wrote a Dec. 30 letter to Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi protesting the Nebraska agreement.

“In marked contrast, all other states would not be similarly treated and instead would be required to allocate substantial sums, potentially totaling billions of dollars, to accommodate (the bill’s) new Medicaid mandates,” the letter states.

Since the letter was sent to the congressional leaders, two more attorneys general have signed on, making the effort bipartisan.

It’s unclear whether the Nebraska provision will be removed during negotiations among the House, Senate and White House over a final bill. Democrats hope to settle on final legislation before President Obama’s State of the Union speech.

McMaster did not expect to talk with Reid or Pelosi while he was in Washington. “I don’t believe that any meeting with them can produce fruit,” he said.

But McMaster does hold out hope that a solution can be found. He has had what he termed “a very cordial conversation” recently with Nelson. During the call, McMaster said that Nelson indicated that he did not ask for special treatment for Nebraska and hoped that the provision could be extended to all states.

McMaster would prefer a legislative fix to a judicial remedy. If the Nebraska provision stays in the final bill, the attorney generals will determine the best method and venue for a lawsuit.

His home state reporters at the Newsmaker questioned whether McMaster was pursuing the issue to bolster his gubernatorial bid. McMaster said that the action “stays in the lane of the attorney general speaking on legal issues.”

Nevertheless, he did address the politics of health care, asserting that the bill symbolizes “a culture of corruption and excess” in the nation’s capital.

“Sometimes the states have to rein in Washington, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” McMaster said. “We can barely keep the lights on (in South Carolina), and here comes another unfunded mandate.”