AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislative leaders voted along party lines Thursday to block a Republican lawmaker’s attempts to have Maine join the 13 attorneys general around the country attempting to block Congress’ health care reform bill.
Rep. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, had proposed a resolution that, if approved by the full Legislature, would have urged Maine Attorney General Janet Mills to challenge the federal government’s ability to require that residents have health insurance.
But first Cushing’s proposed resolution had to make it through the Legislative Council, a bipartisan group of legislative leaders that screens all bills submitted after the filing deadline.
The council voted along party lines with the six Democrats voting to toss out the proposal and four Republicans voting to allow it to proceed.
“Frankly, I think this issue at this point of the session would be the cause of major partisan battles,” said House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven.
That comment prompted Sen. Jonathan Courtney, R-Springvale, to warn that rejecting Cushing’s request could become a source of partisan friction at a time when lawmakers are seeking bipartisan support on a revised budget bill.
“With the budget hanging out there, it’s not a good time to do it,” said Courtney, the assistant minority leader in the Senate.
Thirteen attorneys general from other states filed a lawsuit Tuesday — just minutes after President Obama signed the House health care bill — challenging the constitutionality of certain provisions within the bill. Virginia has filed a separate suit.
The attorneys general object to requirements that, beginning in 2014, most Americans would have to carry health insurance either through their employers, through the government or purchased on their own.
Senate President Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, pointed out that Mills had already indicated that she did not believe the constitutional challenge would succeed.
“You’re asking our attorney general to pursue a lawsuit that she has stated publicly that she believes has no merit,” Mitchell told Cushing.
Pingree also voiced her strong support for the federal legislation that won the vote in Congress of her mother, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.
Speaking afterward, Cushing said he believes the issue is larger than health care and that he would like to see Mills look into whether the federal government is overstepping its authority in other areas as well.
“This was not just about health care,” Cushing said after the vote. “That was the trigger, but there are other areas where I have concerns.”
The council also voted along party lines to reject a request by Rep. Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, for authorization to introduce a proposed constitutional amendment objecting to the health insurance requirements in the bill pending in Congress.