Obamacare fight in SC busted by Senate rules

ashain@thestate.comMarch 19, 2014 

Screen shot: Healthcare.gov on February 14, 2014

THE STATE

— South Carolina’s main bill fighting the federal health care law died on a technicality Wednesday.

Republican Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, the Senate president, struck down a Senate bill that tried to fix problems with a House version lawmakers believed would not survive a federal lawsuit.

Left to vote on the House version, the Senate rejected the measure 33-9.

“I’m really surprised that only nine members took a stand against Obamacare,” Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, said.

Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said he voted against the House version, despite his disdain for the federal health care law.

“If we passed it, we would have a federal lawsuit filed against us the next day,” Massey said.

The House bill would have empowered the state attorney general to go after anyone harming the state with the law and refund taxpayers penalized for not having health insurance.

The Senate version was a complete rewrite. It would have banned most public employees from assisting with enacting the law and required review of public agencies’ grant requests under the Affordable Care Act.

But a Senate rule requires that nothing can be added to a bill not logically related to the original language. The bill’s Achilles heel was additional language that would regulate the people who help others sign up for insurance, said McConnell, considered the General Assembly’s expert on legislative rules after spending three decades in the Senate.

Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican who authored the new version, took an unusual step and appealed McConnell’s ruling. The Senate, however, voted 28 to 14 to side with the lieutenant governor.

Davis has worked in recent months to revise the House-passed “nullification” bill to avoid any questions of constitutionality.

Davis said “fire and brimstone” language atop the House bill led to the Senate’s vote. The House bill says that the act “should not be the supreme law of the land.”

With more wordsmithing and focus, Davis’ bill might have been drafted in a way that could have passed in the GOP-dominated Senate, McConnell said. Asked whether the House bill would have nullified federal law, McConnell said, “I was having trouble understanding what that bill really did.”

State Sen. Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg Democrat who raised the question about Davis’ additions, said businesses and colleges complained the bill would hurt the state’s image.

“I think in the end a majority of both parties came forward and said, ‘You’re right. We cannot be talking about nullification in the 21st century,’ ” Hutto said.

Davis said he has run out of time to make his proposal a separate bill. He could look for ways to put some limits on the federal health care law into other bills.

“I’m not going to give up,” he said.

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