Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius accused Republican state attorneys general on Tuesday of launching health-care-related lawsuits as a means of advancing their own political careers.
In a speech before the National Press Club, Sebelius insisted that the health care bill passed by Congress two weeks ago stands on "solid constitutional ground" despite challenges that its individual mandate violates legal restraints on the federal government. Those challenges, the HHS Secretary added, are just thinly-veiled efforts to gain political traction.
"I think that the vast majority of lawsuits have been filed by Attorneys General in states where they have also some interest in higher office," said Sebelius, in what is one of the more direct pushbacks against the lawsuits to date. "I'm going to let the lawyers go debate the situation. [But] we are confident that the legal standing of the law is solid and that this has more to do with politics than policy."
As it stands now, 14 state attorneys general have announced that they will sue the federal government over health care legislation. Thirteen of them are Republicans and the one Democrat of the bunch -- Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell -- is reported to have been pressed into action by the state's governor, Republican Bobby Jindal.
Democratic attorneys general, by contrast, have essentially scoffed at the efforts -- calling them a waste of taxpayer money and time that are undoubtedly doomed for failure.
"Most constitutional scholars looking at this issue say it is absolutely clear that these lawsuits will not be successful," Kentucky AG Jack Conway told the Huffington Post last week. "While it may make for good Tea Party politics for [Republican Senatorial candidate] Rand Paul and Sarah Palin, it makes for really lousy lawsuits. And I'm not going to waste the taxpayer resources of the people of Kentucky on political stunts."
Just how partisan has the issue of health-care-related lawsuits become? On Monday, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson (a Democrat) dismissed pleas from the state's Republican leadership (notably Gov. Tim Pawlenty) to pursue a lawsuit against the bill, insisting the legislation is on firm legal ground. In response, the governor's office pledged to pursue a lawsuit regardless.
"We appreciate Attorney General Swanson considering this matter and her recognition of the Governor's ability to participate in this litigation in his capacity as governor," read a statement from Pawlenty's Deputy Chief of Staff Brian McClung. "Governor Pawlenty believes the federal government is overreaching by subjecting citizens to a fine if they do not comply with a mandate to buy a good or service. Governor Pawlenty intends to participate in this litigation."