Breaking with Mitt Romney and other prominent Republicans, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said Thursday he does not think Congress should repeal the entire health-care law — or even undo the controversial individual insurance mandate in the short term.
Because the mandate is so tied to other key features of the law, including the requirement for insurers to cover people with preexisting conditions, “the individual mandate will have to stay for now,” McKenna said at a news conference in downtown Seattle.
McKenna, who is running for governor, said the right thing to do is to work on fixing parts of the law that don’t work, but said it would be wrong to scrap the entire thing and start over.
He said one of the primary criticisms of the law is that Democrats forced it through as one massive package with little or no Republican support.
“To completely blow it up I think means, I think, that we are committing the same sin, but in reverse,” McKenna said.
Despite coming out on the losing end of the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the law, McKenna said the lawsuit he joined with 26 other attorneys general partially succeeded in limiting the power of the federal government.
“I’m mostly relieved, because I have been very, very concerned from the beginning that Congress was appropriating to itself a new power that we never thought it had before,” he said.
McKenna noted that a majority of the court said Congress cannot force Americans to buy a product — health insurance in this case — under the constitution’s Commerce Clause. Instead, the court said the insurance mandate was properly understood — and constitutional — as a tax on people who don’t buy insurance.
McKenna said he is still bothered by that, saying he didn’t see a “limiting principle” preventing Congress from imposing new taxes on anything, such as unhealthy foods or obese persons.
McKenna also praised the court’s decision that the federal government cannot unilaterally force states into an expensive Medicaid expansion. Instead, states will have power to negotiate those terms. He said he views the Medicaid expansion as “a meaningful way to expand access to health care for the poor” but has concerns over the costs.
When it comes to the governor’s race, McKenna said voters should view him as having done the right thing in standing up for the constitution. And he said he’d distinguish himself from Democratic opponent Jay Inslee by pushing for medical liability reform and other cost controls aimed at reducing medical inflation.