LePage's Comment On Health Reform Causes Controversy
A statement Governor-elect Paul LePage made about national health care reform and printed Sunday in the MaineToday newspapers has drawn national attention and has resulted in attempts from his staff to "clarify" LePage's remarks.
Interviewed in Washington, LePage apparently claimed that he had just learned that if thirty-five states join the lawsuit to repeal federal health care reform, the law "dies, automatically.”
Pretty much anyone who took civics in high school immediately took issue with LePage's statement, including outgoing Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, who was quoted in an article the next day explaining that "A congressional act does not get voided or overturned simply because a certain number of state officials join some lawsuit. I don't know what he's talking about."
The story reached national bloggers, who faulted LePage for his lack of basic constitutional knowledge, despite having waved a copy of the document in the air at rallies and during debates.
On Monday, LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt attempted to explain the Governor-elect's statement and sent out this note:
"Governor-Elect LePage spoke with a reporter last week in Washington about asking Maine’s newly elected Attorney General Bill Schneider to join the states legally challenging President Barack Obama’s new health care law. The Governor-Elect believes that if enough states oppose the measure it will have the effect of killing it politically. His intent was to discuss the concept of broad-based political opposition rather than a non-existent statutory or constitutional trigger.
The new information the Governor-Elect was referring to was the November 30th introduction of a Repeal Amendment to the United States Constitution. Representative Rob Bishop of Utah has proposed an amendment that would give two-thirds of the states the ability to directly repeal a federal law."
So does this explain LePage's strange remarks? Was he simply talking about political opposition and the potential effect of a long-shot constitutional amendment?
According to a full transcript of LePage's statement provided by MaineToday reporter Rebekah Metlzer, this seems highly unlikely. Here's what LePage actually said, presented verbatim:
"I think that I am going to be sitting with our attorney general and ask him to join the lawsuit against the federal government and I just found out, that if we can get 35 states to sue the government it dies, automatically. It's a national repeal. It's just like when you ratify an amendment to the Constitution, you need to 35 states. To repeal it, you need 35 states to go against it, it's repealed.”
Metzler says she didn't push LePage for further explanation (for which she has been faulted by Down East media critic Al Diamon) but she also denies the possibility that LePage was misquoted.
According to the transcript, LePage clearly wasn't talking about a hypothetical amendment where state legislatures could pass resolutions opposing a federal law and eventually overturn it. He was talking, very specifically, about the lawsuits against health care reform and his belief that they alone could “automatically” repeal the law.
In addition, LePage misstates the number of states it takes to amend the Constitution. It takes three-quarters of the states, or thirty-eight, to ratify an amendment. The amendment that Demeritt cites would require the concurrence of two-thirds of all states, or thirty-four, to repeal a law.
If we discount the possibility that LePage was just making things up or was horrendously misquoted, both of which appear unlikely, it seems probable that LePage misinterpreted something he had heard about a potential amendment and it caused him to have a confused sense of how the Constitution works, one that he repeated to a reporter.
The fact that this may have occurred is troubling. It means that LePage likely lacks a basic understanding of both the Constitution and the process of implementing national health care reform, issues that were central to his campaign and that could be a significant part of his term as governor.