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Tennessee attorney general coy on whether he will pursue case against Obamacare

By   /   June 11, 2013  /   Comments Off

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Tennessee has a legal maneuver to pull to possibly get out of one big part of the Affordable Care Act, but State Attorney General Bob Cooper’s office won’t say if he will pursue it.

Almost 700 miles away, however, Oklahoma’s Attorney General Scott Pruitt is going full throttle against Obamacare, or at least the employer mandate aspect of it.

The mandate, which is deemed a tax, applies to businesses with 50 or more employees that do not comply with provisions of the law. Employers with 50 or more employees would be forced to pay a penalty of $2,000 each for all of their employees after the first 30, even if only one employee qualifies for a tax credit or a subsidy through a health exchange, Pruitt said.

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper

 

Pruitt, a Republican, said states not opting to create their own health exchanges under Obamacare, including Tennessee, Oklahoma and 31 others, don’t have to participate in the employer mandate, a tax on business owners.

The law, he says, is on his side.

“The ACA only provides for the penalty to be collected in states where a state health care exchange has been established,” Pruitt wrote in a lawsuit against the federal government  challenging the provision. “Oklahoma did not adopt a state health care exchange, so under the health care law, the IRS cannot collect the tax.”

The federal government, therefore, is collecting the tax under circumstances not authorized by Congress, Pruitt added.

According to an article last year in Ohio Watchdog, the Congressional Research Service agrees with this interpretation.

Thus far, Oklahoma is the only state to file such a lawsuit.

Rather than follow Pruitt’s lead, Cooper, a Democrat, will do nothing, at least not now, his spokeswoman, Sharon Curtis-Flair, told Tennessee Watchdog.

“You can just say that we are monitoring the status of this litigation in Oklahoma,” Flair said, adding she had no other comment on the matter.

Cooper announced early last year that Tennessee would not join 26 other states that were suing the federal government over the implementation of Obamacare.

“It did not seem to be a wise use of scarce state resources when we have all these other cases that we’re working on to invest money in,” Cooper told a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.

Tennessee voters do not elect Cooper to his position. Instead, by Tennessee law, the State Supreme Court appointed Cooper to an eight-year term that is scheduled to end next year.

According to TN Report, Cooper’s reluctance to join the lawsuit prompted legislators in the Republican-led General Assembly to talk about making his position an elected one.

Oklahoma’s Pruitt,meanwhile argues in his lawsuit that Obamacare’s employer mandate has the potential to devastate the Sooner State’s economy.

“If a company has 1,000 employees and one employee now qualifies for an exchange, the company would pay the $2,000 tax for that employee and for 970 other employees with a total penalty of $1.94 million,” Priutt charges in his lawsuit.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt

The editors of National Review also agree with Pruitt’s interpretation of the law. The authors of Obamacare, the editors said, never expected that so many states would refuse to create their own exchanges.

“The Obama Administration, demonstrating its habitually cavalier disregard for the rule of law, is proceeding as though it has the legal right to offer subsidies and impose penalties in states that have refused to create exchanges. That the law does not give the Administration that right apparently is of little concern.”

The editors also called upon governors, attorneys general and lawmakers in other states without their own exchanges to form a united front with Oklahoma.

Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for Pruitt, told Tennessee Watchdog that he is not actively seeking out other states to join in on the lawsuit.

Calls seeking comment from the offices of Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey were not returned.

Pruitt is scheduled to argue his case on June 20 in the U.S. District Federal Court in Muskogee, Okla., Clay said.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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