Senate pushes back against "federal overreach"
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Senate pushes back against "federal overreach"

Date: February 8, 2010
By: Michael Bushnell
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Senate spent nearly all of its session time Monday on resolutions that would urge the state's attorney general to sue the federal government over legislation that may never see the light of day in Congress.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, spoke about his resolution that would encourage state Attorney General Chris Koster to join 15 other state attorneys general in threatening a lawsuit against the federal government if a version of health care reform is passed into law. The attorneys general, led by Henry McMaster of South Carolina, have said they would sue over a provision inserted into the U.S. Senate version of health reform that was designed win the support of conservative Democrat Ben Nelson.

The amendment would have permanently exempted Nebraska from funding the expansion of Medicaid that would be required under the proposed bill.

The state Senate spent nearly two hours debating the non-binding resolution, despite the fact that health care legislation has been tabled following the election of a Republican to fill a seat in Massachusetts, which ended the Democrats' ability to beat a filibuster without any GOP support. In addition, Nelson himself has disavowed the amendment and asked for it to be removed.

Further complicating issues is the fact that, Koster, like President Barack Obama, is a Democrat. However, Schmitt noted that Koster was a Republican state senator until 2005, prior to his foray into statewide office. Of the 15 attorneys general who have already signed on to fight the reform bill, two are Democrats: Drew Edmondson of Oklahoma and Richard Cordray of Ohio.

Schmitt said he sent a letter over a month ago to Koster asking for support and hasn't heard back.

"My office faces the Supreme Court building (where the Attorney General's office is located)," Schmitt said. "He could have sent a smoke signal."

Democrats questioned the timeliness of the resolution, along with another one Schmitt introduced that would urge Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment.

"We are basically going to hire a lawyer for something that might happen," said Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Independence. He introduced an amendment, which was passed, that would keep the legislature from asking Koster to challenge any part of a congressional health reform bill until it actually is signed into law by Obama. An amended resolution then was passed through the full Senate, which is dominated by Republicans.

The Senate also passed, by a wide margin, a resolution Schmitt introduced that urges Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment. Sen. Rita Days, D-Normandy, questioned the necessity of the resolution if it wasn't clear that 37 other states were also doing the same thing. Thirty-eight state legislatures must pass a resolution in order for a constitutional convention to be called. 

"I'm just saying that we shouldn't be spending our time on things that can't happen," Days said. "Congress isn't going to listen anyway."

The Senate still passed the resolution 23 to 6 with three Democrats, including Callahan, voting in favor.

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