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Pawlenty orders state to stay out of federal health plan

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opinion Perham, 56573
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, saying the federal government is trying to take over states' rights, has ordered Minnesota officials to not apply for federal health care funds under a 2010 law, a decision Democrats claim will cost the state billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

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The Republican governor on Tuesday issued an executive order forbidding members of his administration from applying for federal funds under the health care reform law President Barack Obama signed in March.

In the order, Pawlenty said that the federal act was passed "with massive new spending commitments at a time when the growing federal government debt threatens private sector economic growth." He said money needed to fund the act would come from higher taxes.

The governor's order said the action was needed "to protect Minnesota's sovereign interests." Also, he added, the federal law amounts to "unprecedented federal intrusions into individual liberty," including ordering every American to buy health insurance.

The issue is a hot-button topic this election year, with Republicans across the country speaking out against the law.

Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Laborite legislative health care leaders on Tuesday said Pawlenty took the action only because he is seeking conservatives' support for a 2012 presidential bid.

"He wants to be Minnesota's next Harold Stassen and spend the rest of his life running for president unsuccessfully," Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said, referring to the one-time Minnesota governor who failed in nine attempts to become president.

Pawlenty appears to be considering a presidential campaign in 2012, although he says he will not make that decision until early next year.

"This is a very sad day in the history of Minnesota," Huntley added.

It was not clear how many federal health funding opportunities will come up in Pawlenty's final four months in office, and Democrats admitted that the governor who takes office in January still may be able to apply for some of the funds.

Also, state law specifically orders Pawlenty to apply for some of the federal programs, although Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, wondered if Pawlenty would follow that law. If he does not, she said, DFL lawmakers could consider suing him.

The state has no control over several federal provisions, including a tax credit offered to small businesses that provide health insurance and one that requiring insurers to keep dependent children on insurance policies longer.

The governor recently turned down $850,000 in sex-education money, while he accepted other federal funds to teach sexual abstinence. The grant he rejected requires no state money, but the one for which he did apply would require a state contribution.

The Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota president said the money Pawlenty rejected would have taught teen-agers how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

"Minnesota's young people are in the midst of an epidemic of sexually transmitted infections, with rates rising to historic levels," Sarah Stoesz said

The biggest pot of money Pawlenty is turning down is $1.4 billion to allow 80,000 Minnesotans to get into the federal Medicaid program.

Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said the state would have to spend more than $400 million to take part in that program, and some estimates go up to $700 million. Huntley said the program would cost the state $188 million.

That disparity was common Tuesday, as the two sides debated the impact of Pawlenty's executive order. No one knows how much could be lost or saved by Pawlenty's action.

More than 100 programs are funded in the health-care overhaul measure, many of which require states to compete for the money.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com

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