Legislators Debate Merits Of "Obamacare" Referendum

Missouri voters will decide issue on Aug. 3

More Tea Party rallies may be held as a result of the Aug. 3 "Obamacare" referendum. Times file photo (click for larger version)
05/28/2010 - A referendum on what critics call "Obamacare" will be on the state's Aug. 3 ballot. Area legislators, who divided on a statehouse bill approving such a vote, expect plenty of voices to be raised on both sides of the issue.

"No matter what you want to call it, Obamacare or health care reform, I don't think people like it and I don't see it working," said Rep. Mike Leara, R-Sunset Hills. "I was co-sponsor of the bill to put it on the ballot, because I think Missourians will reject this federal (health care) plan.

"I am against the government having anything to do with our health care," said Leara. "People who pay for their health care should not be forced into a system resulting in rationing 10 years from now. The majority of people are covered now, and they like what they have."

Rep. Jeanne Kirkton, D-Webster Groves, was one of 47 votes against the referendum. It passed with 108 votes. The referendum asks voters to decide if a patient, employer or health care provider can be compelled to participate in any government or privately run health care system.

Kirkton said the bill is a symbolic political ploy; will have no effect on implementation of the federal plan; and may cost the state money if it prompts legal action.

"Everything I have studied about this points to a conclusion that the health care reform bill and its mandates are Constitutional," said Kirkton. "That is why I voted against having a useless referendum on the ballot. Its purpose is to rouse political passions and the Republican base.

"I don't have to defend my vote," noted Kirkton. "But those who want this referendum to put down the reform bill should answer: Why don't you want people with pre-existing conditions to have medical coverage?

"Why don't you want older children to have the option to stay on their parents' medical insurance? Why do you want companies to decide caps on how much medical care you can have if you get sick?" said Kirkton, turning the tables on those who say she should defend her House vote.

Sunset Hills Rep. Leara said he expects a return of last summer's Tea Party rallies in the St. Louis area as a result of the Aug. 3 referendum.

"The Tea Party people will have an impact on the vote," said Leara. "I don't consider myself to be a Tea Party person, because I don't lean as libertarian as they do. I am certainly in sympathy with them on opposing this health care reform plan."

Kirkton said she would like to see supporters of health care reform energize and organize.

"Silence is often mistakenly viewed as the lack of support," said Kirkton. "The goal of this ballot measure is to increase turnout for conservative candidates in the primary. Those who support health care reform would find it in their best interest to energize and to rally like-minded voters, even though the referendum is legally meaningless."

National Attention

State action for a referendum in Missouri has attracted national attention. Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, a primary sponsor of the referendum bill, said state voters want to nullify a bill that would fine them for not purchasing medical insurance coverage and for not participating in the federal plan.

"We've got a very active grassroots patriot uprising in Missouri, and they've been very active in passing this," Cunningham explained to The Washington Times. "My guess is that turnout will be pretty heavy because there is so much angst over what is coming down from over there in Washington."

Cunningham credits the Tea Party for getting the ball rolling for a referendum in Missouri's legislature. Republicans like Cunningham say it is necessary because state Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, has not joined some other attorneys general now suing the government to overturn health care reform.

Defenders of Koster's refusal to sue on behalf of Missouri point to legal experts like Charles Fried, former U.S. Solicitor General for the Reagan Administration. Fried insists such efforts to sue or to opt out of the plan are a waste of taxpayer money.

"The notion that a state can just choose to opt out is preposterous," said Fried, now a Harvard Law School professor. Fried told National Public Radio, "One is left speechless by the absurdity of it."

Webster's Kirkton said absurd or not, Republicans like Cunningham hope to attract voters to the polls on Aug. 3 with the referendum. She said such voters in the GOP primaries are more likely to vote against the moderate Danforth Republican candidates in the state primary races.

"Will Be Meaningful"

"I voted for having a referendum. I think it will be meaningful," said Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood. "The vote can have the effect of telling the federal government that people do not want to be forced into a national health care system. I've heard from plenty of people who are afraid of what the impact of this plan will be on them personally."

Stream said he thinks all the state challenges to the health care reform plan will ultimately end up in the courts. He said the issue of whether the states can opt out of the plan will probably be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court at some point.

"I voted against the referendum," said Pat Yeager, D-South County. "I don't think the state legislature needs to be finding ways to tell the federal government what to do. Doesn't the state have enough problems of its own to work on?"

Yeager said she is disappointed, if not angry, because a jobs bills was never passed this session. She said it was "pathetic" that so much time was spent discussing resolutions against Obama, that real work - like the jobs bill - fell by the wayside.

"I think when all the details are worked out on health care reform, it will be an improvement," said Yeager. "I think people are smart enough to see that it is in their interest, and they will vote to keep reform. Of course, I am real sure the health insurance companies will pour money into ads on this referendum, because they hate health insurance reform."

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