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February 3, 2011 at 11:18 AM

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Inslee: McKenna should back off health-care lawsuit

Posted by Jim Brunner

Update: 12:02 p.m. Inslee now has put up an online petition asking McKenna to remove himself from the lawsuit.

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee isn't yet saying whether he'll run for governor in 2012.

But the Bainbridge Island Democrat is not shy about criticizing Attorney General Rob McKenna, who many expect to be the leading Republican contender for governor.

In an interview Wednesday at a Seattle coffee house, Inslee ripped McKenna for his continued participation in the 26-state lawsuit challenging the new health-care law.

"You are either with the people in this state to protect their rights to get insurance, or you are with the tea party," Inslee said.

McKenna has repeatedly insisted he doesn't want to eliminate the entire health-care law -- just portions he believes are unconstitutional, including the "individual mandate" requiring everyone to purchase health insurance or face a tax penalty.

But as Inslee and other Democrats have pointed out, the lawsuit McKenna signed onto explicitly asked for the entire law to be struck down.

And U.S. District Judge Richard Vinson this week did just that, ruling the whole law should be scrapped because the individual mandate is unconstitutional.

If that ruling stands, it would kill benefits of the new health care law that McKenna claims to support, such as the guarantee of coverage for children with preexisting medical conditions and a ban on insurance companies dropping coverage for people who get sick.

"He (McKenna) is the caboose on a Republican tea party train that is running over those rights," Inslee said.

If McKenna really supports those parts of the health-care law, he should withdraw from the lawsuit in light of Vinson's ruling, Inslee argued.

McKenna says he didn't agree with his co-plaintiffs who wanted to see the entire law invalidated. He's confident the U.S. Supreme Court will retain beneficial parts of the law even if it agrees the individual mandate is unconstitutional.

"This case is not really about the health-care system, it's principally about our federalist system and it raises important issues about the constitutional role of the federal government," McKenna said Monday after Vinson's ruling.

Assuming McKenna runs for governor in 2012, the health-care law will remain in the news and is guaranteed to be a major issue regardless of his opponent.

Legal experts told The Hill newspaper the case could reach the U.S. Supreme Court in late 2011 or early 2012.

Inslee, wary of being a distraction to Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature, said not to expect a decision on his political plans until this spring at the earliest.

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