Politics & Government

March 1, 2014

The Buzz: What's in the SC Senate's proposal to fight the Affordable Care Act

A lengthy debate is expected to begin this week in the state Senate on Beaufort Republican Tom Davis’ long-awaited amendment to a bill curbing the federal Affordable Care Act in South Carolina.

A lengthy debate is expected to begin this week in the state Senate on Beaufort Republican Tom Davis’ long-awaited amendment to a bill that would curb the federal Affordable Care Act in South Carolina.

Davis’ amendment aims to turn a S.C. House-approved health care nullification bill, which says, essentially, “Hey, D.C., no way we’re following your law,” into one that says, “Hey, D.C., no way you’re taking control of our state’s public resources to enact this law.”

Davis’ proposal uses the word “commandeering” to try to avoid possible legal challenges that the House bill amounts to unconstitutional nullification. To bolster his anti-commandeering case, Davis cites a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court decision saying the federal government cannot force local law-enforcement agencies to aid with background checks of gun buyers under the federal Brady Bill.

What the House version does: Lets South Carolinians deduct any penalties that they have to pay because of Obamacare from their state income taxes, bans state employees from working on the federal law and the state from setting up a health-care exchange, and allows the S.C. attorney general to sue anyone who might harm people by enacting the law.

What Davis’ amendment does: Bans any Affordable Care Act-authorized Medicaid expansion, blocks state and local government agencies from helping South Carolinians enroll in the federal plan, and prohibits creation of a state health-insurance exchange.

The amendment also sets detailed rules for federal navigators, who aid in enrolling South Carolinians in insurance under the federal health care program, and creates a way for agencies to apply for Affordable Care Act grants through state budget requests.

What Davis’ amendment doesn’t do: Prevent the optional expansion of the current Medicaid program, which is growing regardless of Obamacare, or stop people from applying for health insurance policies on the act’s federal exchanges. The more than 40,000 South Carolinians who have enrolled in federal plans are not affected, Davis said.

What worries colleges: Davis’ amendment appears to say any grants requested from a federal agency with ties to the health care act would have to go through the six-month state budget process. That process effectively could bar state colleges from receiving millions in federal dollars, the schools fear.

“Restricting the ability of South Carolina’s universities to compete for federal research funding will hurt our already tenuous economy and decrease our ability to recruit and retain high-tech companies, not to mention negatively impact our ability to compete with research centers across the country,” the University of South Carolina said in a statement. About a third of the school’s grants, including for basic research, are from health-related agencies.

But Davis, who led a special Senate panel that reviewed the anti-Obamacare bill over the summer, said barring colleges from applying for grants was not his intent. He wants just grants directly tied to the Affordable Care Act to go through budget reviews.

“We just want to make sure there are no strings attached,” Davis said, adding he plans to fix the language in his amendment.

The bill won a special order to go straight to the Senate floor for debate and a vote without going through legislative committees, which usually clean up any discrepancies like the grant issue, he said.

What opponents say: State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, is not so sure Davis’ amendment will avoid a court fight.

“What (the Obamacare opponents) are doing will bring a lawsuit,” he said. “They don’t care if it’s constitutional. They just want to have some red meat for the folks back home.”

Brett Bursey, executive director for the S.C. Progressive Network, said Davis’ amendment still impedes the enforcement of the Affordable Care Act, just like the House version. “It’s petty and people are going to die because they don’t have insurance.”

How long will the debate take? Longer than usual since the bill did not go through the Senate’s committee process. Davis said senators will talk about whether a response to the Affordable Care Act is needed and then how they should react.

“We have spent six months to prepare for questions from both sides of aisle,” he said.

Hutto said he expects many Republican state senators to line up to brag about their support for limiting the federal health care plan. “They all want their day at the podium.”

Davis predicted about three weeks for debate before a vote.

That may be an optimistic estimate.

The ethics reform bill -- a controversial, but less complicated issue – needed a month of on-and-off debate before it passed the Senate last week.

Graham’s challengers tout endorsements

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has a huge lead in June’s GOP primary contest, according to a Winthrop Poll released last week, but his challengers won some endorsements.

•  Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor announced an endorsement from a senior military analyst on Fox News, retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely.
•  The National Association for Gun Rights endorsed three of Graham’s opponents – state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, Charleston PR executive Nancy Mace and Easley businessman Richard Cash. The group opposes legislation widening national background checks to include people deemed mentally ill by a court and supports ending gun-free zones in schools.

Association director Dudley Brown gave a nod to Bright among the three candidates his group endorsed, who has polled second behind incumbent Republican Graham – though not within striking distance of the senator. “There’s no denying Sen. Lee Bright has gone a step further and deserves special recognition,” Dudley said.

She said it

“He said he’d have something to say about it. I complained. We’ll see what he does.”

Gov. Nikki Haley about how President Barack Obama might react after he told governors last week that they should not complain about National Guard cuts and, if they did, he’d respond. Haley, who criticized the cuts, called the president’s behavior toward governors “offensive.”

Staff writer Jamie Self contributed. Catch The Buzz all week at www.thestate.com/buzz

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