The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit by 20 states challenging President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
The motion filed late Wednesday says the U.S. District Court in Pensacola lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over some claims raised in the suit. The motion also says other parts of the lawsuit fail to state claims upon which relief can be granted.
A key issue in the suit by the states, National Federation of Independent Business and several individual taxpayers is whether the federal government can require individuals to purchase health care insurance and fine those who fail to do so.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said Thursday that the government's defenses clash with comments Obama made during the health care debate, "including the president's insistence on national television that the purchase mandate was absolutely not a tax."
In its arguments for the motion to dismiss, the Justice Department says the requirement to buy coverage is an exercise of Congress' constitutional power to tax and spend.
"The Supreme Court has long held that an exercise of this power is valid, even if it has a regulatory function, even if the revenue purpose is subsidiary, and even if the moneys raised are 'negligible,'" wrote a team of government lawyers led by Assistant Attorney General Tony West.
Karen Harned, executive director of National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, called the administration's argument a "bait-and-switch move" because of Obama's prior no-tax statements. She said the law itself does not used the word "tax" for the insurance requirement.
The government attorneys also say that while reasonable people may disagree on issues such as the health care overhaul, it cannot be moved from the elected branches of government into the courts without a genuine constitutional issue, which they maintain is lacking in this case.
The states have argued the new law will require them to pay additional Medicaid costs not covered by the federal government, but that they cannot opt out of the program for low-income and disabled people because it has become too popular.
They maintain that's a violation of the 10th Amendment, which says the states and people have powers that the constitution does not grant to the federal government nor prohibit the states from having.
"But no case—ever—has invalidated a spending condition on such a theory, for good reason," the government lawyers responded.
They argued such an interpretation would prohibit Congress from amending existing laws and give states "a blank check" on spending federal money.
McCollum filed the lawsuit just minutes after Obama signed the 10-year, $938-billion health care bill into law, choosing a court in Pensacola, one of Florida's most conservative cities.
Other states that have since joined him are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson has set a Sept. 14 hearing to listen to arguments on the motion to dismiss and set a tentative schedule that would move the case into late fall. The judge, though, has promised to make the case speedy and inexpensive for taxpayers who are footing the bill for both sides.
McCollum, who also is seeking the Republican nomination for Florida governor, said he remains confident.
"Our lawsuit challenges the individual mandate that violates the U.S. Constitution," he said. "Furthermore, the federal government is threatening our state sovereignty with this unprecedented expansion of federal powers and commandeering of state resources. This is not acceptable."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times