Several months ago, Virginia passed a law prohibiting the federal government from requiring individuals to purchase health insurance coverage, establishing “unique standing” to challenge the federal health care law in court. Last week, a federal judge ruled that the Virginia lawsuit can proceed and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have taken to the airwaves to celebrate their victory.
But yesterday, during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, McDonnell suggested that his opposition to the federal mandate does not mean that he would oppose requiring compulsory insurance on the state level. Asked if he’d approve of a Virginia mandate, McDonnell implied that he might, and stressed that his opposition to the federal requirement is grounded in his interpretation of the commerce clause and the tenth amendment:
CROWLEY: If the state of Virginia, in the form of the legislature, passed a bill saying you must pass — you must have health insurance, would that be all right?
MCDONNELL: It might be, under the state constitution. But this goes to the heart and soul of our federal system, what the 10th amendment means….But if the federal government can use the commerce clause to tell the citizens of Virginia or Michigan or any other state that they must buy a good or a service, and if they don’t, they’re going to get fined, then there’s virtually no limits to federal power.
McDonnell is espousing traditional tenther beliefs: health care policy should be left to the states, where each can decide about the need for an individual requirement. It’s a sentiment shared by Mitt Romney and other prominent conservatives, but I suspect it will come as a surprise to some of the Libertarian supporters that make up the anti-health reform coalition. Without directly endorsing the mandate, one of its most vocal opponents is admitting that state governments can force individuals to purchase coverage. He’s saying that it’s a policy worth considering and that’s significant.