CHARLESTON – The chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party thinks the state should join 27 others in suing the federal government over the health care overhaul that has been dubbed "Obamacare."
But the state's chief deputy AG says the office doesn't have the power to join the suit.
"More than half of state governments have taken legal action against Obamacare," Mike Stuart said. "The House (U.S. House of Representatives) has now voted to repeal Obamacare. Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and twenty-four other states have joined together to challenge the Constitutionality of Obamacare but not West Virginia."
Stuart called on the state Legislature and leaders of both political parties to pass a non-binding resolution demanding that state Attorney General Darrell McGraw join 27 other states in the suit.
"Citizens of all political parties, working families, and all West Virginians will pay a heavy price if Obamacare is allowed to stand as the law of the land," Stuart said. "Our state budget will explode, and West Virginians will face much higher taxes if we fail to join our neighbors and a majority of states in trying to stop this terrible federal encroachment."
Stuart said the Legislature needs to send "a loud and clear message" to McGraw to join the suit.
"While our Attorney General is spending our tax dollars to sing his name on statewide radio, Darrell McGraw has been AWOL for West Virginia on this critical issue," Stuart said. "Obamacare is a threat to the Constitution, our state budget, and West Virginia families.
"McGraw needs to do the right thing and fight for us."
Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes said Thursday that the office does not have the authority to join the lawsuit.
She also said what is good for other states might not be for others.
"It would depend on maybe how many people are living at the federal poverty level and other similar factors," she said. "You don't hear on the news, really, any real analysis about the provisions of the bill. People feel the process was very flawed and everything was done behind closed doors. And it's understandable that people are upset about it. We realize it's a very serious subject."
"But, we don't have any authority to bring a challenge to the constitutionality of the federal health care legislation. It's plain and simple."
That power, she said, would have to come from either the state's Department of Health and Human Resources, the insurance commission or the Governor's Office.
Stuart said he wonders why the AG's office hasn't asked for such power from the Legislature.
"Here's the problem with the Attorney General's office," he said. "Because of the record of this attorney general, we have ended up with, effectively, a neutered attorney general from the standpoint that it's important for West Virginia and West Virginia families that we have an attorney general that has the ability to step up to the plate and to have the authority from the Legislature.
"West Virginia is viewed as so unfriendly to business. And with the lack of the attorney general driving issues such as important tort reform and failing to join in the Obamacare suit, I sometimes wonder who this attorney general is fighting for. The people of West Virginia or Darrell McGraw?
"If Ms. Hughes believes they don't have this power, have they sought the authority? And if they haven't sought this authority, why not? Our budget is about to go over a cliff, and we're talking tax increases across the board or budget deficits that will eat away at the fabric of West Virginia.
"If that's what you believe, then why haven't you sought the authority to join these suits? A majority of states has joined in this suit."
Hughes said seeking such power is easier said than done.
"We ask for a lot of things," she said. "It's not like we get it. We have asked for prosecutorial power in cybercrimes for two years now. And we still don't have that.
"It's naïve to say we should go ask and it would given. To put the onus on us as if we're responsible for this health care issue. It's disingenuous instead of calling out people that have the ability to give us the authority.
"We have to be given the authority. Why don't these same people lobby the Legislature if they want something changed for our office. It's easy to pontificate."
Earlier this month, state House of Delegates member Jonathan Miller, R-Berkelely, proposed both a constitutional amendment and a bill to make it illegal for the government to require residents to buy health insurance.
Miller, who also is minority vice chair of the House's Health and Human Resources committee, has been trying since 2009 to get such a law passed.
This session, he is proposing both a constitutional amendment and a bill to "better protect" the rights of West Virginia residents, he explained. It's "best" if it's written into the state Constitution, he said, because it makes it more enforceable.