Weekly Pulse: Judge Rules Against Health Reform, Takes Cash from Opponents

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Virginia federal judge who ruled against a key component of health care reform on Monday has ties to a Republican consulting firm. Judge Henry Hudson is a co-owner of Campaign Solutions, as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! reports.

Hudson, a President George W. Bush appointee, has earned as much as $108,000 in royalties from Campaign Solutions since 2003. A cached version of the firm’s client roster lists such vocal opponents of health reform as Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), the Republican National Committee and the American Medical Association.

In November, Collins and Snowe joined McConnell in signing an amicus brief to challenge the constitutionality of health care reform in a separate suit in Florida. Campaign finance records show that Campaign Solutions has also worked for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is spearheading the lawsuit. Tiahrt added an amicus brief to Cuccinelli’s lawsuit.

Today, the mandate. Tomorrow, the regulatory state?

Hudson ruled that the individual mandate of health care reform is unconstitutional. The mandate stipulates that, after 2014, everyone who doesn’t already have health insurance will have to buy some or pay a small fine. The judge argues that this requirement exceeds the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce.

The Commerce Clause gives the federal government the power to regulate commerce between the states and international trade. Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones explains that this clause underpins the power of the federal government to regulate the economy in any way:

But the issues at stake in Cuccinelli v. Sebelius (Ken Cuccinelli is the conservative attorney general of Virginia; Katherine Sebelius is President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, or HHS) are actually far broader. Hudson’s ruling doesn’t just show how the Supreme Court could gut the health law—it shows how the court could neuter the entire federal government.

Is it constitutional?

Chris Hayes of The Nation interviews Prof. Gillian Metzger, a constitutional law scholar at Columbia University, about the merits of challenges to the constitutionality of health care reform. According to Metzger, “the argument that [the mandate] is outside the commerce power is also pretty specious given the existing precedent.”

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly accuses Judge Hudson of committing an “inexplicable error” in legal reasoning. There is a longstanding precedent that the federal government can regulate economic activity under the Commerce Clause. Hudson acknowledges this, but he maintains that this power doesn’t cover regulations of “economic inactivity” (i.e. not buying health insurance). As Benen notes, people who don’t buy insurance aren’t opting out of the market, they’re opting to let society absorb their future medical costs. Everyone who does buy insurance pays more because freeloaders coast without insurance and hope for the best.

Luckily for the Obama administration, the judge did not bar the implementation of health reform while the case works its way through the courts. The Supreme Court will ultimately hear this case. In the meantime, the federal government can continue building the infrastructure that will eventually support health care reform.

This is the third time a federal judge has ruled on the constitutionality of health care reforms and the first victory for the anti-reform contingent.

Mandatory mandate

Paul Waldman reminds TAPPED readers why the mandate is critical to any health care reform based on private insurance. With a single-payer system, you don’t need a mandate because everyone is automatically covered. A mandate only comes into play when you have to force people to buy insurance.

Without a mandate, healthy risk-takers who don’t buy insurance will starve the system of premiums while they are well and bleed the system for benefits when they get sick. Meanwhile, people who already know they’re sick will sign up in droves, and the Affordable Care Act will force insurers to accept them.  Without a mandate, the private health insurance industry would collapse and take health care reform down with it.

Is expanding Medicare the answer?

Matthew Rothschild of the Progressive argues that the legal headaches over the individual mandate illustrate why it would have been legally and procedurally easier to achieve universal health care by simply expanding Medicare to cover everyone.

At Truthout, Thom Hartmann argues universal health insurance in the form of “Medicare Part E” would spur economic growth and innovation because entrepreneurs could start businesses without worrying about how to provide health insurance for their employees.

Meanwhile, Brie Cadman reports at Change.Org, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is trying to defund health care reform by cutting funds for preventive health care. Coburn is urging his fellow Republicans to vote against a House-passed measure that would allocate $750 million for the 2011 Prevention and Public Health Fund. Cadman notes the irony of a medical doctor like Coburn, who also claims to be a fiscal conservative,  trying to scuttle funds to control preventable diseases which would otherwise cost society billions of dollars a year.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.



Tom Coburn: Pray That A Senator Can't Make The Vote

Senate Republicans are forcing the Democrats to take an extra week to pass a bill whose passage we now know is inevitable. Why sacrifice their own family Christmas Eves for a tasteless political play destined to fail? (Or for that matter, their party's future?)

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) may have just given us our answer. It would seem that the Republican Senate Caucus, or at least Dr. Coburn, isn't so convinced that the final passage is inevitable. Oh, they're resigned to the fact that 60 Democrats support the bill. But that doesn't mean they're resigned to the fact that 60 Democrats will still be alive by Christmas Eve, or at least healthy. Shades of Pat Robertson and the Supreme Court on the Senate floor last night:

Was Tom Coburn saying let's pray that Robert Byrd has a bad night? To be fair, he was probably saying he hopes that some random Democrat gets stuck in an unplowed DC side street, and indeed, a spokesperson claims he was hoping a Democrat might "hit the snooze button one too many times". And that's not sinister or cruel. Undemocratic, yes, and thus perhaps a touch unpatriotic, but certainly not sinister. But as Dick Durbin points out, that's not exactly what Coburn said on the floor, no matter what a staffer says later.

Unlike many in the Netroots, I'm a fan of bipartisanship. I think it makes sense to reach out to the entire country and its representation when crafting a bill. I was appalled by Tom DeLay's tactics of intentionally passing every bill on as razor thin a margin as possible, and even now believe that progressives and Democrats won't be in the majority forever. But that said, bipartisanship can only go so far. I think Max Baucus and Barack Obama started out with the right approach but stuck to it for far too long. Bipartisanship is a wonderful tool, but policy results are the goal, regardless of the final tools used.

The American people, I think and hope, agree with me: they want bipartisanship, but they want results even more, and as such the Republicans won't benefit from Coburn's "prayers". The voters have said loud and clear that they want bipartisanship, but quips like Coburn's and votes like the Defense Approps bill make it, as my mother would say, "obvious to the most casual observer" that the reason the health bill isn't half as good as it could have been, and the reason that it will pass on exact party lines, isn't because of partisan Democrats but because of obstructionist Republican tactics. They'll gain a few seats in 2010, yes, of course. But I think if they continue to be the intentional Party of No, refusing to let this country work, they will find themselves affected by the "obstructionist" label the same way in 2012 and 2014 that Tom Daschle was in 2004. I can't for the life of me figure out why Coburn and Co. think this helps their cause. Beck and his movement will fade and the right-wing will be left with nothing more than a record of voting against troop funding and praying for old men to fall down at politically strategic moments.

There's more...

Sen. Tom Coburn Is an Evil Scumbucket

And this is why: He must hate Louisiana and her people. Coburn, whose state obviously never has had a major disaster (judging from his behavior) introduced an amendment to the Senate healthcare bill stripping it of the $300 million Mary Landrieu had had added to help Louisiana make up for what would be a catastrophic Medicaid shortfall.

Talk about kicking somebody when they're down--Louisiana seriously needs this money.

There's more...

OK-Sen: Is Tom Coburn Retiring?

Y'know how there have been, like, a million stories asking whether or not Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning will retire, in part because of his weak fundraising, fundraising not indicative of a Senator gearing up for re-election?  Well, consider this:

SenatorRaised in Q4Cash on Hand at End of 2008
Jim Bunning   $27,591 $149,991
Tom Coburn $19,210 $54,984

Oklahoma's Tom Coburn raised less in Q4 and has less cash on hand than old man Bunning, who everyone expects will retire.

Maybe Coburn isn't so keen on a re-election bid, as his previous comments have suggested.  He certainly isn't fundraising like his heart is in it.  Will Coburn be the next Senate Republican to announce his retirement?

There's more...

With Bigger Numbers, Senate Dems Roll Coburn

Way back in July of last year, Senate Dems finally tired of Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn's use of "holds" to block legislation, so they bundled all the bills up into one package dubbed the "Tomnibus." With only a 1-seat Dem advantage at the time, the bill (which contains many land preservation measures) didn't pass.

But with a newly expanded majority, Dems wasted no time flexing some early muscle:

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, was sending a message with his decision to schedule the vote on Sunday. Democrats have been frustrated by Mr. Coburn's determination to hold up so many bills and the Sunday vote was intended to let Republicans know that Democrats are no longer going to go along easily.
A dozen Republicans did vote for the measure, which irritated Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, one of Mr. Coburn's chief allies.

"If my colleagues on my side continue to accept this, there's going to be no such thing as a Republican Party," he said.

It passed, 66-12.

While the Roland Burris fiasco has dominated early perception of the new Dem caucus, yesterday's work shouldn't be ignored. With Obama looking for as many votes as possible on the stimulus package, this early vote did more than warn Republicans of possible Sunday work - it provided a nice, concrete reminder of a new, expanded majority.

There's more...


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