Caldara, conservative lawmakers, lead Colorado effort to block federal health reform

DENVER– More than a hundred people gathered at a rally convened on the west steps of the capitol today to urge Colorado lawmakers to oppose federal health reform and to launch a state ballot initiative that aims to exempt Colorado from any version of the health legislation set to pass through Congress in the coming weeks. The move here reflects related efforts in states across the country.

The Independence Institute's Jon Caldara (Boven; TCI)
The Independence Institute's Jon Caldara (Boven; TCI)

Spearheaded by Jon Caldara, president of the free-market Independence Institute in Golden, the rally was the latest move in the Institute’s sustained fight to defeat what its supporters refer to as “Obama care” or the “government takeover” of the essential, vastly profitable and expanding health-care sector of the economy.

Evoking the state’s rights Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Caldera told onlookers that the Colorado legislature “should defend Coloradans from Obamacare.” He said that if the state legislature was unable to pass anti-health reform legislation, then he was determined to bring the issue to the people in the form of a 2010 ballot initiative.

“The fight against Obamacare has moved from Washington, D.C., to this building. If they don’t stop it, we will [stop it] at the ballot box this fall with an initiative,” Caldara said, speaking from the steps of the capitol in a dark leather broad-brimmed hat and jacket. “Will they live up to their Tenth Amendment responsibilities and protect us?”

Supporters of health reform argue that government involvement is the only effective way to repair a broken and exploitative system that generates enormous profits for the heath care and insurance industries by in part denying service to millions of Americans and by excluding additional millions of the country’s uninsured from the most basic services.

The constitutional amendment Caldara is proposing is modeled on proposals being introduced in about 29 other states, all beginning from a draft written with input from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group with deep ties to insurance and health-care corporations. The state legislative and initiative efforts, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, are the latest move made by insurance companies and hospitals to influence the future of health care. The National Institute found that in the months surrounding the 2008 election, health-care groups contributed roughly $102 million to state political campaigns across the country.

Caldara did not mention the American Legislative Exchange Council’s role in helping to shape his ballot initiative. Neither did the rally’s other speakers, including Jeff Crank, Colorado director of American’s for Prosperity, the leading organization in the anti-health reform movement last summer, as well as Republican State Reps Amy Stephens, Cindy Acree, State Sens. Shawn Mitchell and Kevin Lundberg and Dr. Sanat Dixit, who was billed as a “local neurosurgeon.”

According to The Denver Post, Caldara’s proposal would prevent the state and the federal government from mandating citizens “purchase an insurance product or participate in any public or private health care plan or benefit. It would also allow cross-state purchasing of insurance coverage.”

Rep. Acree said the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution clearly states that the powers invested in the federal government are explicitly implied or otherwise left to the people.

“We are the people and we will be heard. We have to remove the barriers [to health care] on our terms.”

Acree said she is introducing bills that would allow Colorado to op-out of the federal health care system. She said her legislation would force the government to allow individual to deduct health insurance from their taxes in the same way that large companies do and to purchase health care across state borders.

Denver capitol 'anti-Obama Care' protesters, 19 Jan 2009  (Boven, TCI)
Denver capitol 'anti-Obama Care' protesters, 19 Jan 2009 (Boven, TCI)

Broomfield’s Sen. Mitchell said that “health care is a universal human need, which is exactly the reason that we do not want to depend on our government to provide it for us.”

Berthoud’s Sen. Lundberg said that state legislation designed to block federal health reform was Constitutional in that the U.S. government does not have the authority to force health care onto Coloradans. “They need to realize that,” he said.

Doctor Dixit said the federal legislation is a sham, that it “sells out the people that it is supposed to be serving.” He said that under the federal plan, many of his patients would have died.

“They are trying to piggy back this thing on the legacy of Edward Kennedy. I can tell you for a fact that in any of the European countries, that a 78-year-old man with a malignant brain tumor would not get Ted Kennedy care. Not unless he was Ted Kennedy.”

Critics of the state proposals aimed at blocking federal legislation say that the attempts will fail.

Bobby Clark, deputy director of progressive activist group ProgressNow, said that “there is no question that the federal government has the power to regulate on any subject that they want to regulate on.” He added that it’s not clear exactly how it will play out in terms of health care.

Caldara told the Colorado Independent he believed the initiative would “set Colorado up in a very specific way… that [the initiative] would trump the United States rule and, furthermore, it is written so that it is separable, so that if there are parts that the federal courts don’t like, they can remove just those parts…

“Assuming this wins and it gets challenged against Obamacare, I think it protects us very, very nicely,” he said.

Clark said the initiative is a clear corporate effort. He mentioned the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council, whose members include lobbyists from Blue Cross / Blue Shield, he said, just one of the groups involved that have major financial stake in defeating or significantly altering health reform to make it most friendly to the health industry.

“To us, this is about politics, not policy. [The initiative] is going to be coordinated by the health-industry lobby for the right wing, which sees this as a golden [campaign] issue. Putting it on the ballot is simply a [voter] turnout tool. It is that transparent.”

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