State Officials Weigh in on Health Care

The deeply partisan debate over health care legislation working its way through Congress is breaking down along similar lines in the states, which will be tasked with carrying out much of the plan.

The U.S. Senate voted early Monday (Dec. 21) along party lines - 60 Democrats to 40 Republicans - to give initial approval to the latest version of health care legislation. Now that the details of the bill are emerging, state officials are weighing in, and criticism from Republicans over the Democratic-led effort is getting sharper.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) "is wishing Nevadans a Merry Christmas with a smile on his face and a knife in our backs," Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) said Monday, according to the Las Vegas Sun . Gibbons contends that federal health care legislation would bankrupt Nevada and cost the state $613 million in general fund dollars because it would expand Medicaid, the joint state-federal program that offers health care to the poor.  

Reid's office responded by accusing Gibbons of "using his official office to parrot national Republican talking points."

Both Gibbons and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) assailed a deal secured by U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) that would benefit Nebraska - but not other states - by forcing the federal government to pick up the state's full costs for expanding Medicaid. "It reeks to me of legalized bribery," Riley said on Monday, according to the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser.

Even Nebraska's governor, Republican Dave Heineman, as well as some Democrats, blasted Nelson's deal. " It is imperative that every state is treated fairly and equally or all special deals must be removed " from the bill, Heineman wrote in a letter to Nelson, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

Democratic Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said " it seems a little unseemly to me that the senator who is so hugely responsible for health care would be so narrow in his concern that he would hold the ability of the nation's health-care hostage in order to get something that was so selfish for his own state, " according to the Cincinnati Enquirer .

In Tennessee, opposition to the health care legislation among some Republicans is so strong that two GOP state representatives have asked the state attorney general to take legal action to stop the bill from becoming law, the (Nashville) Tennessean reported . The lawmakers claim that the legislation would violate state sovereignty and cost Tennessee taxpayers $1.4 billion annually.

In Oklahoma, three Republican state lawmakers plan to file a bill to allow voters to opt out of any federal health care plan, The Associated Press reported.

Democrats, for their part, are trying to stand behind the bill, even if they disagree with some of its components. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) - who is running to replace the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) - now supports the legislation, though she earlier raised issues about its abortion provisions, The Christian Science Monitor reported..