By Jim Brunner
The Seattle Times
Attorney General Rob McKenna split with many prominent Republicans in the wake of Thursday's Supreme Court ruling, saying Congress should not move to scrap the federal health-care law or even its controversial individual insurance mandate.
Although acknowledging disappointment in being on the losing side of the challenge to the Affordable Care Act, McKenna, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, said he's ready to implement its new health- insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion if elected.
"There are a number of good provisions in this law that ought to be maintained," McKenna said at a news conference in downtown Seattle. If some provisions "aren't workable," Congress should fix them, he said.
Gleeful Democrats, meanwhile, signaled they'll continue to pummel McKenna over his participation in the case.
Jay Inslee, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said McKenna was wrong to have joined a lawsuit threatening the ability of breast- cancer survivors to obtain health insurance.
"I am the person in this race who has zealously guarded that right of Washingtonians," Inslee said at his own Seattle news conference. "It is a difference between myself and my opponent."
As a member of Congress, Inslee voted for the 2010 health-care overhaul and even helped craft portions of it.
State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz called the lawsuit "an opportunity to understand Rob McKenna better. He is not who he says he is -- he is a very conservative Republican."
McKenna has always said he supported certain parts of the law, including the provisions guaranteeing insurance coverage for pre- existing conditions such as cancer, and allowing kids to stay on their parents' health plans until age 26.
Despite those public statements, the legal filings in the lawsuit, made in McKenna's name along with 25 other state attorneys general, had sought to strike down the entire law.
McKenna's muted reaction to Thursday's ruling stood in sharp contrast to the fiery retorts by many Republicans across the country.
Mitt Romney, the presumed GOP presidential nominee, declared he would scrap the law on his first day in office. Sen. Jim DeMint, R- S.C., a prominent national conservative leader, called on governors to halt implementation of the law's health-care exchanges until it can be repealed "down to the last letter and punctuation mark."
But McKenna said that would be wrong, and praised the exchanges, which are online marketplaces that will allow people to shop for affordable health plans. On the Medicaid expansion, he said he would work with the Legislature "to decide how much we can afford and how we can pay for it."
McKenna said Democrats erred in passing the massive health-care law as a single package without bipartisan support.
"To completely blow it up means, I think, that we are committing the same sin, but in reverse," McKenna said. Instead, he said critics should "find the parts that are objectionable and work through them."
McKenna even said the controversial individual mandate -- which requires most adults to maintain health insurance or pay a tax-- should stand "for now" because it's so tied to key features in the law, such as coverage of pre-existing conditions.
Democrats called that a reversal, noting that McKenna had earlier argued for striking the mandate while leaving the rest of the law intact.