Politics & Government

McMaster fights Medicaid provision

S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster said Monday a plea from U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson to "call off the dogs" won't deter him from fighting a provision in the Senate's health care bill that favors Nebraska.

In fact, McMaster's initiative to prepare legal action against the provision gained more support Monday when Oklahoma's Drew Edmondson became the 14th attorney general -and the first Democrat - to sign on.

"Politicians in Washington are proposing to pass a law that is unfair, unjust and unconstitutional - and burdens 49 states, including South Carolina," McMaster told The Post and Courier. "Senator Nelson and the politicians in Washington are leading an assault on our constitutional rights and running up debt."

McMaster, a Republican running for governor, said his research has uncovered more potential constitutional flaws with the legislation, including another provision that gives Florida an advantage.

After agreeing to vote for the bill, Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, was given a deal that the federal government would pay 100 percent for Medicaid expansion in his state. Nelson's vote assured the bill would pass the Senate.

McMaster said it is unconstitutional to give special treatment to one state.

He dubbed the deal, the "Cornhusker Kickback." McMaster wrote a letter co-signed by 12 state attorneys general to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to warn about possible legal action if the provision is not deleted. McMaster said he has not received a response.

But U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat who will be a party to the conference negotiations in Washington over the health care bills, said he would use the Nebraska provision as a chance to bring home a better deal for South Carolina.

Clyburn said earlier this month he will push for the federal government to cover as much as 95 percent of the cost for a Medicaid expansion in each state.

"I will work to have all states treated fairly," Clyburn said in a statement Monday. "If I were in Mr. McMaster's shoes, I would be very careful. Sometimes we are better off with equity than equality."

McMaster said he had a 10-minute conversation with Nelson on Thursday.

Nelson told McMaster he did not ask for the Nebraska deal as a way to secure his vote, according to a memo by McMaster's chief executive assistant, Trey Walker. Nelson said the provision was a placeholder to give every state the same deal.

Nelson's spokesman did not immediately provide a response.