RALEIGH — As state lawmakers made their way back to work Jan. 9, they faced nearly 200 protesters on the lawn in front of the General Assembly building. The message from the demonstrators to the incoming legislators – some seasoned, some newly elected: “Honor Your Oaths: Nullify Now!”
The purpose of the event – organized by former state Rep. Glen Bradley, R-Franklin, and the North Carolina Campaign for Liberty – was to press freshly elected representatives, especially Republicans, to do everything in their power to stop President Obama’s Affordable Care Act from taking effect in North Carolina.
The state’s new Republican governor, Pat McCrory, was the primary target of the rally. Until now, the governor has not stated whether or to what extent he will work to implement the law.
North Carolina Campaign for Liberty Coordinator Adam Love and speakers at the rally called on the governor and Republican members of the General Assembly to return $73.5 million in what they called federal “bribe” money former Gov. Bev Perdue accepted to set up a state health insurance exchange from which the uninsured must select government-subsidized health insurance plans.
Other Republican governors have refused the money and refused to cooperate in setting up the exchanges as a strategy for minimizing the impact of the new health care law. Even so, it’s not clear how much individual states can do to resist implementing Obamacare until several outstanding lawsuits work their way through federal courts.
At the rally, U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-3rd District, chided his fellow Republicans for being unfaithful to the nation’s founding document. “We are supposed to be the party that pontificates the Constitution, but we don’t follow the Constitution,” he said.
With a Republican governor, a Republican supermajority in the General Assembly, and a Republican majority in the technically nonpartisan state Supreme Court, state Republicans have a “historic opportunity” and “no excuse” for not fighting the federal overhaul of our healthcare system, Love said.
Love added that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding Obamacare stated that the mandate to purchase insurance under Obamacare is constitutional as a tax, “but the legitimacy of Congress’ exercise of that spending power rests on whether the state voluntarily and knowingly accepts the terms of the contract.”
In Love’s view, Obamacare can be stopped at the state level if states reject the contract. Doing so would be a simple three-step process, he said. “You have to return, refuse, and nullify.”
First, McCrory and the General Assembly must return the $73.5 million in federal funds for the health exchange, Love said. Second, they must refuse to accept any federal money to expand Medicaid.
“Medicaid expansion is one of the key planks in the Obamacare law that obligates North Carolina to follow so many of the purchase mandates and obligates North Carolina employers to the coverage mandates,” he said.
Finally, after opting out of a state-run or hybrid state-federal health insurance exchange, state lawmakers must refuse to join an exchange run by the federal government by citing the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Love said.
“When [lawmakers] passed Obamacare, they were not counting on most of the states opting out of the state-federal hybrid exchanges,” Love said. “They assumed that our elected officials at the state level would not be able to turn down ‘free’ money, but most other Republican governors, to their credit, have done so, including those from all of the states around North Carolina — South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia.”
The original legislation did not appropriate money to operate federal exchanges in all the states, he said. “Now [Washington officials] don’t know what to do. They’re saying they can go along with [a federal exchange] and run it just fine, but they’re bluffing. We have to call that bluff.”
Love notes that Oklahoma has refused to set up a state or state-federal hybrid exchange and has filed a legal challenge to the federal exchange, on the basis that the federal government wouldn’t be able to cover the cost of running it and would try to force the state to pay for a program it never wanted.
N.C. State University Political Science professor Andrew Taylor said the state can do a number of things to mitigate the effects of the federal health care law, but to prevent it entirely is implausible.
States could minimize Obamacare’s impacts by opting for a state-run exchange, rather than a hybrid or federal run exchange, Taylor said. They also could challenge the part of the law that requires states to expand Medicaid coverage, he said, “which is in limbo because that’s the part the Supreme Court considered suspect.”
Taylor said he was not aware of a plausible method, however, for opting out of the health insurance exchanges altogether.
Another speaker at the rally, Greg Brannon of FoundersTruth.org, said a government is only legitimate if it protects the individual’s inalienable rights, including the right to own property. If it can’t do that, he said, it’s time to “declare independence” all over again.
“The Constitution is a contract,” Brannon said. “The parties to that contract are the states. The agent is the federal government. The agent does not have to power to tell the parties what to do.”
If the federal government tries to usurp that power, the states simply should refuse to comply with it, he said.
“It’s time for us to stop being afraid of Washington,” Love said. If [state] Republicans cannot agree to do everything possible to stop Obamacare, then what the hell is the point of working so hard to elect them in the first place?”
Other speakers at the rally included conservative radio host Bill LuMaye; Rachel Mills, press secretary to former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas; and Diane Rufino from the North Carolina Tenth Amendment Center. State Reps. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, and Michael Speciale, R-Craven, and state Sen. Ronald Rabin, R-Harnett, also spoke.
Sara Burrows is a contributor to Carolina Journal.