RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia's attorney general said Thursday that while he would have preferred to see the U.S. Supreme Court strike down President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, he found a lot to like in the 5-4 decision upholding it.
Republican Kenneth Cuccinelli said he was pleased the court agreed with the central point he made in his own unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the law_ that the government cannot use the Constitution's Commerce Clause to force people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.
"That's a win for liberty," Cuccinelli said at a news conference.
He also praised the ruling that the government cannot force states to expand Medicaid by threatening to withhold all federal funding for the program if they refuse. Cuccinelli said now the state will have a choice on the expansion, which would cost Virginia about $200 million a year over the next decade.
"There are going to be very good reasons for Virginia to consider not going down that road," Cuccinelli said, noting that there are many competing demands for scarce state tax dollars.
Despite the court's holding on the Commerce Clause and Medicaid expansion issues, it said the law is a valid exercise of congressional taxing power. Cuccinelli found a bright side to that, too, even though it preserved a law that he said is bad public policy.
"In the future, no one will be able to say of any bill that can raise money that it's not a tax," Cuccinelli said.
He also said the ruling refutes claims by Obama and the law's supporters in Congress that the penalty provision of the so-called "individual mandate" was not a tax.
"They all wanted to avoid being accused of raising taxes," Cuccinelli said. "That's exactly what they did."
Cuccinelli had initially denounced the Supreme Court's ruling as "a dark day for American liberty," but he reeled in his criticism after thoroughly reading the justices' opinions.
"It is a mixed result today," he said. "I'm OK with the outcome."
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, meanwhile, blasted the ruling and said he will work vigorously to elect a GOP president and Senate in hopes of repealing the law.
"The court may have narrowly said it's constitutional, but this is the wrong policy for America," McDonnell said.
He declined to say what steps the state will take to comply with the law, including a provision that requires states to either establish their own health care exchange program or participate in one created by the federal government. He said he is inclined to favor a state exchange over "another new federal bureaucratic monstrosity," but added that he thinks even a state exchange is a bad idea.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the House will vote on repeal of the law July 11. With Democrats in control of the Senate, however, the repeal effort appears doomed for now.
Cantor said the court's decision "really indicates that we have entered an age in which government _ Washington _ will be controlling health care unless something changes."
Democrats, meanwhile, lauded the court's decision as a victory not only for Obama but for most of Virginia's estimated 1.1 million uninsured residents.
"The Affordable Care Act is an important first step in curbing discriminatory insurance company practices and increasing access to health care," said former governor and current Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine. "Our government, businesses, and citizens cannot continue to spend more than any other nation on health care while getting second-rate results."
Kaine said there is more work to do. Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, who said he was pleased with the court's ruling, agreed.
"I have always felt the Affordable Care Act was weighted more toward the issue of coverage and not enough toward cost containment," he said. "I look forward to now moving forward in a bipartisan way on how we can further bring down the costs of health care."
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