COLUMBIA, SC — The author of a Senate proposal that would restrict state participation in the federal health care law known as Obamacare said his amendment offers opponents of the law a chance to do something other than shake their fists.
But a Democratic senator said that if passed the proposal would lead lawmakers down a “dangerous road” where legislators pick and choose which federal laws they want to follow.
The debate over a bill to limit the state’s participation in Obamacare ended Wednesday in the Senate without any votes but plenty of passion and even a controversial tweet from Gov. Nikki Haley.
“Fire alarm just went off in the Statehouse,” she tweeted. “I wonder if it was a senator who pulled it to avoid debate on Obamacare?”
Her quip drew sharp comments from Democrats.
“As usual, when Nikki Haley weighs in on what’s going on in the Legislature, it’s absent leadership and full of petty politics,” said Kristin Sosanie, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party.
Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Charleston Democrat, was asked about Haley’s comment during debate on the issue Wednesday.
“I find that disturbing,” Kimpson said. “It seems like we ought to maximize our time in a more positive light.”
Lawmakers last year rejected expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, but the issue of Medicaid expansion and the law itself continues to draw debate inside the Statehouse and out.
On Tuesday, 11 demonstrators protesting the failure of lawmakers to expand Medicaid were arrested after they stood in a roadway outside the Statehouse parking facility in an act of civil disobedience. Among those arrested was a Greenville minister.
Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican tasked last year by a Senate leader with looking at a so-called nullification bill passed by the House, proposed another approach, what he describes as anti-commandeering.
Davis’ proposal, the focus of debate on the issue Wednesday in the Senate, would prohibit state resources from being used on the law, prevent the state from offering its own health exchange under the law, requires legislative approval for any grants to state agencies under the law, and would ban Medicaid expansion under the law.
The proposal also would require “navigators,” those helping consumers enroll in policies using the law, be registered with the state Department of Insurance.
Davis said while nullification wouldn’t allow the ACA to be enforced in the state, his proposal would prohibit state resources for being used on it.
Davis said the state’s current Medicaid rolls of about 1.1million could be expanded to 1.7million under the law.
While the federal government has offered to pay the total cost of the first three years of such expansion, the state would pick up the tab for 10percent after that, a prospect that Davis and other GOP leaders, including Haley, find too expensive.
In fact, Davis said he believes the federal government’s financial future is so unstable that the state cannot count on future federal aid.
“I fear, and I think reasonably so, that in a few years time that federal spigot is going to turn off or at least slow down,” he said.
Davis said his bill doesn’t nullify anything.
“If you want to do more than just shake your fist and condemn the Affordable Care Act, if you want to actually do something that pushes back in a legal way, if you want to actually make a difference, then you should vote for this,” he told the Senate.
Kimpson argued that the amendment amounts to the state “thumbing its nose at federal supremacy, a well-established concept.”
He said the provision on grants could create obstacles for schools like the Medical University of South Carolina in applying for grants to streamline health-care costs.
“We should not hamstring and place obstacles in the way of state agencies to maximize grants provided under the Affordable Care Act,” he said.
Kimpson argued that the words used in Davis’ proposal, as well as last year’s House-passed version of the bill, are “dangerous language.”
“I’m concerned about the message we’re sending the rest of the country,” he said.
Davis said he wants the rest of the nation to know about his proposal and is asking Haley to share it with other governors.
Sen. Lee Bright, a Spartanburg County Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate, told senators Davis’ proposal isn’t nullification, which he supports.
“Nullification is when you say about the law that is being forced upon us by Washington, we’re not going to have it in this state,” he said. “All the senator from Beaufort is saying is we’re not going to assist in it.”
Bright said his bill would have allowed the arrest of federal agents trying to enforce the ACA.
“I think what Senator Davis is doing is probably the best we can get accomplished out of our Legislature,” he said.
Debate on the issue continues today.