The Missouri Health Care Vote

[MoJo has more elections coverage: Andy Kroll has a report on the Michigan governor’s race and a post-mortem on Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick’s political career, and I have the details of Missouri’s Senate and House primaries.]

Missouri primary voters struck an impotent blow against health care reform on Tuesday, rallying behind Proposition C, a ballot measure that supposedly prohibits the government from requiring that people obtain insurance or punishing them if they don’t. (A key provision of the health care reform law, the so-called “individual mandate,” requires most people to purchase insurance. Starting in 2014, the law imposes penalties on people who don’t buy insurance. Prop C was designed to counteract this part of the reform bill.) Around 70 percent of the voters in the heavily Republican primary electorate supported the measure, which does not actually do what it claims to do. The Associated Press explains [emphasis mine]:

Tuesday’s vote was seen as largely symbolic because federal law generally trumps state law. But it was also seen as a sign of growing voter disillusionment with federal policies and a show of strength by conservatives and the tea party movement.

Legislatures in Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana and Virginia have passed similar statutes, and voters in Arizona and Oklahoma will vote on such measures as state constitutional amendments in November. But Missouri was the first state to challenge aspects of the law in a referendum. 

Republicans and red states oppose health care reform, so it’s not surprising that they’d like to pass laws invalidating it. Unfortunately for GOPers, the Affordable Care Act is a federal law, and states can’t just choose to disobey it—just as states can’t pass their own immigration laws without earning a Constitutional challenge from the Justice Department. We’re talking basic constitutional principles here. Cable news will probably try to make a big deal out of this ballot measure on Wednesday, but this is really a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing. Meanwhile, opposition to health care reform is declining. Here in the real world, Missouri’s Prop C isn’t even going to scratch health care reform, let alone stop it. If the GOP wants to actually do some damage to the Affordable Care Act, they need to win back the House and kill the bill by cutting its funding in the appropriations process.