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Arizona lawmakers voted Wednesday to allow Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to skirt the Democratic attorney general and file a legal challenge to recent federal health care legislation they say is unconstitutional.
The authority, approved by the state House and Senate after sharply partisan debate, could make Brewer the first governor to bypass an attorney general's refusal to sue over health care. Republican governors in Georgia and Nevada also have said they're looking to hire outside lawyers to go around Democratic attorneys general, but neither has officially signed on.
"We're seeking to protect the citizens from this unconstitutional socialism that is under way," said Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise. "The socialists of today are only a gun confiscation away from the communists of tomorrow."
Last week, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard angered Republicans by declining to join more than a dozen other states in filing suit to block the health overhaul bill signed by President Barack Obama signed.
Republicans have said the legislation is unconstitutional because it requires people to purchase private health insurance. Goddard said a suit would be unlikely to succeed.
Democrats, who unsuccessfully proposed banning the use of taxpayer money in the lawsuit, have called the litigation frivolous and a waste of money. They also said lawmakers' time would be better spent reversing cuts to Medicaid and children's health care.
"Let's be honest: These are political games that are being played," said Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson.
Arizona Republicans argue that a successful lawsuit would save the state far more money than it would cost, and the state has a duty to block legislation they believe gives the federal government too much power and burdens the state Medicaid program.
Arizona risks losing billions in federal Medicaid dollars if lawmakers don't reverse part of the state budget adopted earlier this month.
In response to big deficits, lawmakers made Arizona the first state to eliminate a health care program for children. They also dropped health coverage for 310,000 people in the state's Medicaid program.
The cuts would have saved about $400 million in the next fiscal year. Lawmakers have said they have no choice but to reverse them.
Lawsuit opponents argue that there is little chance of success because legal precedent is firmly on the side of the federal government.
They also argue that states don't have standing to sue because the law doesn't require anything of state governments. Rather, the mandate to buy insurance is levied on taxpayers, and states can always opt out of Medicaid.
But House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, said opting out of Medicaid is hardly a realistic option because the state would give up billions of federal dollars.
"If a mugger puts a gun to my head and says, 'Your money or your life,' is that a choice?" Adams said. "I would argue it's a mandate. The mugger is our federal government."
Adams has said Arizona could offer a unique perspective to the lawsuit because of the state's need to reverse Medicaid cuts.
Opponents say Arizona would waste tax dollars by joining a suit that will continue anyway. If successful, the impact of the suit would affect all states, not just those that sue.
"We want to know where this money is going to come from," Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, told Republicans. "It feels really evasive to me and really insulting on behalf of the citizens of Arizona that you will not give us an answer."