Pruitt letter prickles Oklahoma governor's office

Input from Attorney General Scott Pruitt before 2012 health care decisions called “self serving and political” by Gov. Mary Fallin's chief of staff.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Modified: April 14, 2013 at 11:29 pm •  Published: April 15, 2013

Coffee said Pruitt's letter was a factor in Fallin's decision, but both he and Weintz said it was not a deciding factor.

Pruitt, for his part, said it was not his intention to influence policy.

“The debate is about something that's a little bit larger than just, you know, policy,” he said. “My only commitment was this: That if they made their decision, that the decision they made carried out the full benefit of what the law provided.”

Pruitt's lawsuits

Pruitt's lawsuit is still pending in the eastern district of Oklahoma as a judge determines whether or not he will hear oral arguments.

In his letter to Fallin, Pruitt said he was “agnostic” about her policy decision. In an interview with The Oklahoman, he reiterated that his concerns are with the rule of law and not politics or policy.

“There has been a commitment, a strong commitment, from Day One among all my colleagues in this office to be about one thing and one thing only — the law, and making sure that we conduct ourselves in a way to focus on that,” Pruitt said. “It's all about making sure that agencies, in this instance the IRS, does what Congress told them to do, and they haven't.”

The lawsuit against the IRS is one of six pending federal lawsuits filed by Pruitt, a former state legislator who was elected Republican attorney general the same day in 2010 that Fallin was elected governor.

Four lawsuits are currently pending against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the state is also party to a challenge filed in Nebraska against an Affordable Care Act component that requires employers to cover employees' contraceptive purchases.

The state has also accused the U.S. Office of Surface Mining of federal overreach in a separate case.

‘Federal overreach'

Pruitt, who developed a special unit of prosecutors focused on these types of cases, said protecting Oklahomans from “federal overreach” is one of his primary tasks as attorney general.

“The scope and authority and power of the U.S. government over your life as an individual has been up for debate the last two-plus years, and it continues to be,” he said. “These are not abstract issues; they're legal issues that go to the heart of your ability to live as an Oklahoman.”

Some conservative health care analysts have called Pruitt's lawsuit against the IRS a model for other states and said the ability of the federal government to implement key elements of the Affordable Care Act hangs on its outcome.

But other analysts have said the lawsuit is just one more obstacle elected officials in Republican-led states have tossed out to disrupt the agenda of President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University who has studied the issue, said 382,000 Oklahomans would lose an estimated $1.5 billion in subsidies in 2014 alone if they could not be offered through the federal exchanges.

Oklahoma is one of 26 states that have opted not to develop a state-based health care exchange.



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