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The end of the beginning

Healthcare | The narrow, highly partisan passage of a massive healthcare overhaul gives life to a movement to 'repeal and replace' the law, but it is a process that would take years

Issue: "O Jerusalem," April 10, 2010

WASHINGTON-After a long March 21 afternoon beneath the House side of the U.S. Capitol, thousands of frustrated demonstrators began to disperse. They seemed to sense that their nearly year-long effort to defeat the healthcare overhaul had begun to wilt under Washington's spring sun.

But a few lingered long enough to try a final silent protest. In a human formation they merged to spell a simple but desperate message to the lawmakers inside: "No."

A few hours later, lawmakers ignored that plea and approved a healthcare bill that ushers in what President Barack Obama later called a "new season in America."

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That Sunday began with the House voting to name some post office after someone named Clarence D. Lumpkin and ended some 11 hours later with a vote recognizing the Battle of Iwo Jima's 65th anniversary.

But sandwiched in-between those votes, 219 representatives, all Democrats, voted to remake one-sixth of the U.S. economy. And when, less than 48 hours later, Obama signed into law the almost $1 trillion healthcare measure, his signature brought greater government intrusion into the lives of Americans.

Before Sunday's historic vote, Democrats tried to connect their healthcare push to the Civil Rights movement, walking linked arm in arm from the House office complex to the Capitol.

"We are doing this for the American people," proclaimed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "You're doing this TO the American people," a protestor answered.

Democrats may have dismissed the human "no" spelled out on the Capitol lawn on their march to pass one of the most sweeping social legislations in the nation's history. But the new law seems to mark just the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end in the healthcare war-only seven minutes after Obama signed the healthcare bill into law, attorneys general from 13 states sued the federal government. They declared that Washington has overreached by forcing citizens, for the first time in the nation's history, to buy a particular product.

"The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying healthcare coverage," the lawsuit states, referring to a provision in the new law requiring Americans to carry health insurance or pay a fine. A 14th state, Virginia, filed its own lawsuit.

"I think the Constitution is being walked on at this moment, and many in the Congress right now don't care," Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said on C-SPAN. He added that if this new mandate is upheld, then there might be no limit to what the federal government can regulate.

The lawsuits claim the healthcare law violates the Constitution's 10th Amendment, which gives states powers not explicitly bestowed to the federal government. While the Constitution gives the federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce, opponents of the new law argue that a person who decides not to buy something is not engaging in commerce.

"It seems like we have two Constitu­tions, Madison and Jefferson's and Obama and Biden's," Michael Boldin, founder of the Tenth Amendment Center think tank, told me. He said James Madison intended federal powers to be few and defined.

The lawsuits' prospects? "I don't have much trust in the people who act like deities in black robes," worries Boldin. But the attorneys general are vowing to take their lawsuits all the way to the Supreme Court. It's a battle that will likely take years, and may not be decided before the mandates take effect in 2014.

Not waiting for the lengthy court process, Virginia and Idaho have already opened up another front in what is now becoming a states-rights battle: Both have passed legislation to block mandates in the law. The Virginia law, which passed its Democratic-controlled Senate, says no resident can be forced to purchase coverage or to pay a penalty for not purchasing insurance. Arizona voters face a ballot measure in November asking voters to declare the state exempt from the law's requirements. Similar ballot pushes are underway in Florida, Michigan, and Colorado. In total, 36 state legislators have introduced measures to limit or oppose the new federal healthcare law.

State leaders are fearful that they won't be able to afford the new law: Florida predicts that 1.3 million people will be added to its Medicaid lists at a cost of an additional $1 billion a year by 2019. "I think this is really on thin ice," Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, a Republican, told Fox News. "States are getting fed up. We weren't even at the table in any of these discussions."

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