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Colorado Attorney General Calls Supreme Court Healthcare Decision "Surprising"

Department Of Agriculture

Colorado’s Republican Attorney General John Suthers calls Thursday's Supreme Court’s decision upholding the federal healthcare law surprising and remarkable. 

Colorado was one of the 26 states challenging the healthcare law's constitutionality.

John Suthers was sitting in the front rowduring the supreme court’s oral arguments. He says he thought the decision on whether the individual mandate was constitutional would be based on the commerce clause.

“And that was the only prediction I made after the arguments is that they’re not going to call this a tax. And I was flat wrong.”   

Instead, the court ruled that Congress can require people to purchase health insurance under its taxing authority [.pdf]. Proponents of the law including President Barack Obama had repeatedly said it wasn’t a tax, but simply a penalty. Suthers say it’s a sea change for federal tax policy.

“It’s always been a carrot approach, If you buy the product or service we want you to buy we’ll give you a tax break. If you buy a house we’ll give you the mortgage deduction. Now the court is saying it’s ok for the government to say if you don’t buy the product or service we want you to buy we’ll penalize you with a tax.”

Colorado Democrats are praising the court’s ruling saying the law is crucial for giving millions of uninsured Americans access to health insurance.

Media partner Colorado Public News has gathered responses to the SCOTUS health care decision from Colorado politicos:

US Sen. Mark Udall - "The Affordable Care Act has expanded health coverage for thousands of Coloradans and made preventive care more accessible and affordable for millions of Americans across the country. I am pleased to see that the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the bill's constitutionality. We have already seen the positive impacts of the law, including keeping prescription drugs affordable for our nation's seniors and prohibiting insurance companies from denying health insurance to children with pre-existing conditions. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues, and the administration, to ensure that this important law continues to be implemented in a smart and effective manner."

US Rep. Mike Coffman - “I’m deeply disappointed that the individual mandate was re-branded as a tax and allowed to stand. I still believe that we need to repeal the Affordable Care Act and start over with a bipartisan patient-centered health care reform that doesn’t increase our debt or cripple our economy.”

US Rep. Cory Gardner – “Today's decision is very disappointing. The Supreme Court effectively granted Congress unprecedented power to tax people who don’t spend money and buy what Congress wants them to buy. But just because something is deemed constitutional does not make it good policy. Our fight to curb the overreaching power of government will continue. While today's decision may have been a setback, the vision of our Founding Fathers and their notion of limited government still lives in the hearts and minds of many Americans. This ruling only energizes us for November." 

US Rep. Jared Polis - “The Court has ruled, the issue is decided, and it’s now the duty of everyone in Congress and the administration to work together to ensure that the law is properly implemented so it works as intended: to reduce health care costs, expand health care coverage, protect Americans with preexisting conditions and women from insurance company discrimination, and ensure continued coverage even if you lose a job.

“The health care law is not perfect and just as I did during the drafting of the original legislation, I’ll work with anyone who wants to constructively improve it. But now that the Court has ruled we should work together on a bipartisan basis to ensure that it functions effectively and extends quality health care to all.”

CO. Sen. Irene Aguilar - “This is a wonderful outcome for 480,000 of our 829,000 Coloradans without health insurance. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will help working families afford health insurance, and allow Colorado to expand its safety net for those living in poverty.  Colorado can move forward on its work on the exchange without further delays and diversions. The Supreme Court's decision will help our economic recovery tremendously."

Colorado House Majority Leader Amy Stephens: “Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court sets a dangerous constitutional precedent that will derail our fragile economic recovery.

“Federally mandated health care oversteps congressional authority and will hamstring entrepreneurship and impose impossible-to-manage costs for all employers here in Colorado and across the country.

“House Republicans will continue to look for ways Colorado can fight federally mandated health care and introduce consumer-driven solutions that respect states’ rights and best fit Colorado’s unique needs.”

And the official statement from Attorney General John Suthers:

“Today’s decision is extraordinary and unexpected, and it is frankly a blow to our constitutional system of federalism. The Court has endorsed Congress’s unprecedented decision to mandate that individual Americans buy a particular product or service or pay an economic sanction. While the Court did not rest its decision on the Commerce clause, and agreed with the states’ argument that Congress cannot use that power to compel economic activity, they have permitted the federal government to force individuals to buy a product. Whether Congress does so under the Commerce Clause or the federal tax power, the result is the same:  an unprecedented expansion of federal power.”

“The Court has approved the stick and not the carrot. Congress can now penalize individuals for refusing to buy a commercial product.”

“I am disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Colorado and its fellow states. We have a fundamental interest in protecting state authority and individual rights in the face of the ever-widening scope of federal power.”

“I think it is prudent for each person to have health insurance. While this admirable goal might have been achieved in less intrusive ways, the Court’s decision allows Congress to force each person in this country to buy a particular product, something the federal government has never before attempted to do. Now that the Court has endorsed this unprecedented exercise of federal power, I worry that Congress will pass other laws requiring people to buy one product or another to further a federal government policy.”

“There is one silver lining, however. The Court held that the federal government cannot hold the entirety of a state’s federal Medicaid funding hostage if the state chooses not to expand its Medicaid program. This means, at least, that there are limits on the federal government’s power to compel states to make policy.”

“When Colorado first joined this litigation in early 2010, many of my critics — numerous left-leaning legal scholars and several editorial pages across Colorado — dismissed Colorado’s case as frivolous or pure politics. We proved them wrong by winning at the U.S. District Court and U.S. Circuit Court level. It is disappointing that the Supreme Court sided against the states today. Whatever limits remain on Congress’s power will now be left to the political arena, where history has proven that little stands in the way of further encroachments on individual and state rights.”

“I take my responsibility to safeguard the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions very seriously. Protecting federalism is arguably the most important role for state attorneys general. I am proud to have been a part of this litigation, in spite of the disappointing result.” 

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
Colorado Public News is created in partnership with Colorado Public Television 12, Denver’s independent PBS station. It is led by editor Ann Imse. Others on the Colorado Public News team include:Cara DeGette, managing editorNoelle Leavitt, recruiting and social media directorSonya Doctorian, video journalistDrew Jaynes, webmaster and photographerJournalists Bill Scanlon, Dennis Huspeni, Jody Berger, Sara Burnett, Jerd Smith, Michele Conklin, Andy Piper, Lauren Rickel, Raj Sharan, Amanda TurnerRobert D. Tonsing, publication designer and entrepreneur
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