U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt on Friday endorsed a move by Kansas lawmakers to try to exempt the state from national health care, saying it could create a court test case against health-reform bills pending in Congress.
"I think it's a good piece of legislation and I hope it passes, because it will set the stage to challenge the constitutionality that they've put in this (federal health-care) bill," said Tiahrt, R-Goddard. "I mean, where in the Constitution do we get the ability for our government to tax you or send you to jail if you don't buy health insurance? That's a huge intrusion in our daily lives."
Tiahrt said if Kansas law does lead to a U.S. Supreme Court challenge of federal health care reform, he would likely file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the state's position.
Conservative Republican Kansas lawmakers, led by Reps. Brenda Landwehr of Wichita and Peggy Mast of Emporia and Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook of Shawnee, plan to introduce a constitutional amendment when the Legislature returns to session next week that would claim state sovereignty over health care.
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The proposition, which would have to be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of Kansas voters, seeks to nullify any federal law requiring people to buy health care or mandating that employers provide it.
A conference committee in Washington is working to reconcile differences between health bills that passed the House and Senate. Both versions contain mandates for employers and individuals to buy health insurance and impose penalties if they don't.
Tiahrt made his remarks before a packed house at a meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club, a Republican group.
In addition to criticizing the content of the health-care bills, Tiahrt also said he objects to the secrecy of the conference committee deliberations.
"Today there's a meeting going on behind closed doors on health care," Tiahrt said. "This is an issue that we were told would be discussed in the open ... What we're finding out is there's a lot of broken promises that go along with health care reform."
As a candidate in 2008, President Obama had promised that deliberations on health care would be open and broadcast on C-SPAN, but Democratic congressional leaders have turned aside requests from the nonpartisan network to cover the meetings.
Tiahrt said he supports a Republican-sponsored bill "reforming health care so it brings down the cost instead of having the government take it over."
The Republican alternative focuses on limiting malpractice lawsuits to cut costs of what Tiahrt and others call defensive medicine, in which doctors perform unneeded tests and procedures to protect themselves from lawsuits by patients.
The GOP bill "was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan office, to reduce the cost of health care for everybody by 10 percent," Tiahrt said. "That's the direction I'd be going ... defensive medicine reform. We didn't get it passed because we have too many lawyers in Washington, D.C., today."
Tiahrt, who is running for the Senate against Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays, pointed out that Moran is a lawyer.
Moran is scheduled to speak to the Pachyderm Club next week.