Georgia waded into the polarizing debate over health care reform Mofnday as the Republican-controlled House rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the state's residents to opt out of federal health mandates in a sweeping bill approved in Washington the night before.
Gov. Sonny Perdue, meanwhile, blasted the federal health legislation as a "colossal unfunded mandate" and said his office was investigating "any and all legal options to challenge" the Democratic-backed measure.
Perdue said it would force an additional billion dollars of Medicaid spending per year and harm small businesses by extending the Medicare tax.
On Sunday night, the U.S. House approved legislation that would extend insurance coverage to 32 million uninsured and pave the way for near-universal medical coverage.
The Georgia House on Monday spent more than two hours debating a a resolution designed to prevent the federal government from mandating the purchase of health insurance in the state, even though legal experts said it would have likely have little affect on the federal law.
Supporters of the Georgia measure said the federal bill trampled state and individual rights
"Why should the federal government force me to buy a product? If I don't want to buy it I shouldn't have to buy it," said state Rep. Jeff May, a Monroe Republican. "Nowhere in the constitution are you entitled to health care."
Democrats argued the federal health reform bill -- the cornerstone of President Barack Obama's domestic agenda -- would expand health care to millions of uninsured.
"This is a life or death issue. If you don't have it you die," said state Rep. Winifred Dukes, an Albany Democrat.
The resolution was sponsored by state Rep. Calvin Hill, a Canton Republican, who said Georgia legislators needed to protect citizens of the state "from the long arm of the IRS."
But Calvin Smyre, a top-ranking House Democrat, said the bill was little more than "pure politics as its highest."
"Here we are starting the election before we can get out of here as a body," the Columbus Democrat said.
The 111-61 vote fell short of the needed two-thirds majority, or 120 votes, to amend the state constitution.
Legal experts said it would have had little power because federal law would trump any state law, even a change to the state constitution.
"It's a lot of political grandstanding," said Fazal Kahn, a health care law professor at the University of Georgia Law School. "Clearly this fits within the authority of Congress' commerce clause."
A similar constitutional amendment failed in the Senate last week. But the chamber did muster enough votes to pass a regular bill.
Early Monday, a few dozen tea party activists gathered at the Georgia Capitol to protest the federal bill that passed the U.S. House with no GOP support.
"This is a states right issue, not just a healthcare issue," Virginia Galloway, head of Americans for Prosperity Georgia, an anti-tax group.
Julianne Thompson, of Tea Party Patriots Georgia, assailed the "arrogance coming out of Washington."