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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

As the health care bill makes its way to President Obama's desk, the battle has moved on to the Senate, state legislatures, the court system and the campaign trail.

Attorney General Tom Corbett plans to join 10 other attorneys general in suing to overturn the legislation, two Republican state lawmakers have introduced bills that would make it illegal to force people to buy health insurance, and the Senate is girding for a weeklong battle to pass a series of changes to the health care bill Obama is expected to sign today.

"I don't imagine the Republicans are just going to sort of roll over and say, 'OK, we lost,' " said Villanova political science professor Lara Brown.

First up is the Senate. House leaders could only muster enough votes to pass the Senate's health care bill Sunday because they were also passing a set of changes. The changes include more aid for the poor and the elimination of some controversial state-specific deals.

Because of the process used to pass the changes — called reconciliation — Republicans cannot filibuster the bill, but every provision in it must relate to the budget. Republicans will try to sink the bill by objecting to parts they say don't fit that criteria. If the Senate parliamentarian agrees, the provisions get knocked out, and the bill would have to go back to the House, where Republicans can again try to kill it.

Republicans will introduce popular amendments, forcing Democrats to vote against them or change the bill and send it back to the House.

Corbett said Monday he will meet with his counterparts in Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Utah, Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota and Virginia to draw up a lawsuit to defeat the bill in court.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said the suit likely will be based in part on the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which says power that isn't given to the federal government by the Constitution belongs to the states or individuals.

"Good luck with that," said Howard Dean, former head of the Democratic National Committee. "I tried that maneuver a few times as governor of Vermont and that is very hard to pull off."

If Corbett's suit fails, state Rep. Curt Schroder will try to block the health care bill's implementation in Pennsylvania with an amendment to the state constitution that would bar "any individual mandate that requires someone to purchase health care coverage." Thirty-eight other states are considering similar laws, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council, an association promoting the legislation.

"There is no doubt it is going to be contentious, and a legal battle will likely break out over it," Schroder said. He said if the government can mandate health care coverage, "the next question is where does the role of government end• Should it provide housing• Food• Clothing• These are all necessities of life as well."

Republican candidates immediately began attacking the bill, with several — including Senate candidate Pat Toomey — saying they would campaign on repealing it. The last Gallup poll before the vote, released March 9, found people were against passing the bill by a margin of 48 percent to 45 percent. Republicans criticized Democrats for focusing on health care when jobs and the economy top Americans' list of worries.

"The big question is, what happens next?" U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said. "If we focus on jobs, that will be good for the party. ... But if candidates get away from the jobs issue and don't talk about job creation, then we'll see the political problems."

Once the bill's benefits start taking hold, more people will support it, said Rep. Mike Doyle, who played a pivotal role in the bill's passage.

Doyle, D-Forest Hills, brokered a series of meetings between the White House and a group of Democratic holdouts to arrive at a last-minute compromise over language banning federal funding of abortions. Obama eventually agreed to sign an executive order affirming the ban, prompting the bloc led by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak to come out in favor of the bill hours before the vote.

Doyle said he acted merely as a middleman, but Stupak and Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman later credited him with helping shepherd the bill to passage.

"History will look upon it kindly once people understand this bill does not do all the terrible things some people say it does," Doyle said.

Toomey, however, said the bureaucracies set up by the bill to regulate health insurance plans could force people have to switch their coverage even if they like it. The cost of employer mandates, he said, will hurt the economy.

"We've got to mount a campaign to repeal this thing," Toomey said. "It's going to cost us jobs."

Additional Information:

How they voted

Pennsylvania's congressional delegation split 50-50 over the health care bill Sunday, with nine voting for the measure and nine against. Rep. Chris Carney, D-Dimock, was the only yes vote from a district Sen. John McCain won in 2008.

Western Pennsylvania's delegation:

• Jason Altmire, D-McCandless: No

• Kathy Dahlkemper, D-Erie: Yes

• Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills: Yes

• Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair: No

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