RALEIGH — House Republicans today failed to override Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto of a bill that would challenge the coming federal requirement that people buy health insurance, as Democrats sent a message of their own to the Legislature’s new GOP majority.
Republicans fell four votes shy of the three-fifths majority need to send the override question to the Senate. The party-line vote was 68-51 in favor of canceling Perdue’s veto.
The vote ended three days of intense lobbying by Perdue, legislative leaders and outside advocates trying to shore up a vote to sustain or reject the veto, Perdue’s second so far this legislative session.
Perdue said she vetoed the bill last weekend because it was a distraction and because the constitutionality of the federal health care law is being settled in the federal courts in a case already involving 26 other states. Attorney General Roy Cooper also had sent a memo bolstering Perdue shortly after the Legislature gave final approval two weeks ago to the bill, which would direct Cooper to challenge the mandate in the 2010 federal health care overhaul that citizens purchase health insurance by 2014 or face a penalty.
The bill passed the House on Feb. 22 with two Democrats joining the Republicans, raising the GOP’s hope that it could recruit more conservative Democrats for the override. But in the end, all 51 Democrats present sided with Perdue, who had done her own lobbying before heading to California on a business-recruiting trip to shore up support.
“The governor felt confident that the veto would remain,” Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said after the vote. “She’s pleased that’s the case.”
Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Granville, one of the two Democrats who had supported the health care challenge last month, decided to support the governor today. He said the new GOP leaders were moving too fast on partisan items. The health care challenge was a key element in the Republicans’ fall campaign platform. The GOP has majorities in both chambers simultaneously for the first time since 1870.
“They need to realize that they can’t move the whole world,” Crawford said. “They need to look at these issues a little bit at a time and put some bills out there that everybody can support.”
House Majority Leader Paul Stam, the chief spokesman for the state legislation, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the outcome. GOP legislators have suggested that Perdue changed her tune on a veto after visiting President Barack Obama. Perdue denies that the visit was behind her shift and on Tuesday called such an accusation “nothing but pure, raw politics.”
Stam, R-Wake, said legislative leaders may now file a legal brief in support of other states challenging the U.S. law in a federal lawsuit in Florida.
During the debate, Stam criticized Cooper’s memo that stated the bill would have been unenforceable had it become law because federal law trumps state law when they directly contradict each other. The state’s solicitor general also suggested the bill could have harmed Medicaid funding for the state and the ability to tax over-the-counter drugs.
“The health insurance law requires the American people to purchase insurance against their will,” said Rep. Glen Bradley, R-Franklin.
But Democrats said Cooper’s views were valid and Republicans were only trying to score political points with its base by passing the legislation.
“The people didn’t send us down here to pick fights with the president and the governor,” said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange. “Let’s leave this bill vetoed … and go on.”
The state Republican Party urged members to contact Crawford and six other Democrats they believed could be persuaded to override. Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, Perdue’s 2008 gubernatorial rival and a likely 2012 candidate, lent his voice to automated calls assembled by the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity. But it all came up short.
Several dozen tea party devotees and other advocates opposed to the federal law spoke with House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, outside his legislative office several hours before the vote.
“Are we going to make any difference at all here today? Probably not,” Joe Taylor of Zebulon with the Moccasin Creek Minutemen asked Tillis. He told the group that Democrats were closing their ranks.
Still, Tillis said, “the fact that you all would take time out of your personal lives to do this means a lot.”