Obamacare ‘Nullification’ Supporters to Push New Strategy in the Senate

May 3, 2013

Investigative Reports

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ObamacareFresh off their legislative victory in the S.C. House, supporters of the move for South Carolina to not comply with the implementation of the federal health-care law known as “Obamacare” are now proposing that it be defunded in the Palmetto State.

Tea party groups and others who showed up en masse in recent months as H. 3101, sponsored by Rep. Bill Chumley, R-Spartanburg, was debated in the House want to ban any public entity in the state from receiving any of 72 federal grants that would help fund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“It’s a David and Goliath scenario,” Jesse Graston of Rock Hill, one of the grassroots activists leading the move in South Carolina to resist Obamacare, wrote in an email Wednesday to The Nerve.

“But there is such (a) public outcry about stopping Obamacare,” Graston continued, “that they (senators) are going to have to figure out who they want to please more: the people being their employer, or the special interests groups that are only looking to protect their bottom line. Honestly, I think we can win.”

That might  have grown more challenging Thursday when H. 3101 was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which likely won’t get to that bill anytime soon with the expected upcoming debate on the state budget. H. 3101 was the last bill the House acted on Wednesday – passing on a 65-39 party-line vote – which was the deadline for legislation passed by one chamber to be moved to the other chamber.

“We have some allies in there. We shall see,” Graston wrote to The Nerve Thursday after learning H. 3101 was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

H. 3101 puts state lawmakers on record whether they support efforts to not comply with – or “nullify,” as some have called it – Obamacare. The bill also would prevent the state and any political subdivision, including special districts, from setting up health-care exchanges. The exchanges are aimed at providing consumers more options for health insurance, though critics have questioned their effectiveness and cost.

Besides prohibiting the creation of health-care exchanges, H. 3101 also would:

  • Give South Carolinians a tax credit for any Obamacare penalty that they would have to pay. The fiscal impact of the credit would be $2.6 million a year; and
  • Empower the S.C. attorney general to take action if the implementation of Obamacare harmed a resident or business.

Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, told The Nerve on Thursday that he is interested in using H. 3101 to stop the flow of federal money to fund Obamacare in South Carolina, though he added he wants to know more about what would be coming to the state through the grants before recommending bill amendments.

Because Bright is not on the Senate Finance Committee, however, any move to amend the bill would have to come from the allies on the committee to whom Graston referred, or be done later on the Senate floor if the legislation got out of committee.

Chumley’s original bill proposed jailing and fining federal officials for committing a proposed felony of attempting to implement Obamacare in South Carolina. The offense would be a misdemeanor for state employees, under the original version.

However, Republicans on a House Judiciary subcommittee told Chumley it would not pass with that provision. The panel deleted the criminal-enforcement penalties, and lawmakers later added the health-care-exchange prohibition and the tax credit for any penalty that state residents would have to pay under Obamacare.

The federal grants that would come to South Carolina and other states under Obamacare would help fund the health-care exchanges. Medicaid expansion under Obamacare is designed to get more of the uninsured poor on Medicaid, though the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday defeated a budget proviso that would have allowed the expansion in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, Rep. Kris Crawford, R-Florence and a physician, has proposed a form of Medicaid expansion under H. 4095, which was introduced Thursday with more than 70 co-sponsors. Under the bill, South Carolina would expand Medicaid for three years to receive federal money by seeking a waiver from the federal government to create medical-savings accounts for the poor. The program reportedly is fashioned after a similar one in Indiana.

The Nerve earlier reported that Chumley’s bill received criticism among some conservative activists after lawmakers deleted the bill’s criminal-enforcement penalties. A bill (S. 102) sponsored by Bright would have allowed both federal and state employees to be charged with a misdemeanor if they attempted to implement Obamacare in the state, though that legislation hasn’t moved out of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee since it was referred there on the first day of this year’s legislative session.

The votes in the past week in the House have lifted the Palmetto State to ground zero for the state legislative response to Obamacare, observers say.

“I hope it doesn’t get more difficult,” said Michael Maharrey, national communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center, a California-based organization that promotes states’ rights based on the 10thAmendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“The thing that’s so integral in South Carolina is it is the closest thing to getting passed,” Maharrey toldThe Nerve on Wednesday. “I don’t think we’ve seen anything like we have in South Carolina.”

Graston said motivated South Carolinians have pushed this bill every step, and he expects them to remain engaged.

“The one factor that I’m not sure all the senators have yet added to the equation, is the dramatic awakening of the grass roots that’s taken place this past year,” he said in an email to The Nerve.

“In time past, the S.C. Legislature has enjoyed legislating in a season of politics, when the electorate has been uninvolved, apathetic, and distracted,” Graston wrote. “The message that we just sent to the House is that we are awake!”

Graston added, “Will the Senate be willing to bear the brunt of constituent backlash if they continue to vote in the same manner they used to, which was formulated solely on internal politics rather than genuine regards to the demands of the people?”

Olson can be reached at (803) 254-4411 or curt@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_curt and @olson_curt. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and on Twitter @thenervesc.