MADISON (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker pledged again Thursday not to phase in any parts of President Barack Obama's signature health care reform law ahead of November's elections even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is constitutional.
Walker, a Republican, has said he holds out hope the GOP will recapture the White House and gain full control of Congress and repeal the legislation. He reiterated his stance Thursday minutes after the court released its ruling.
"While the court said it was legal, that doesn't make it right," Walker said at a news conference. "For us to put time and effort and resources into that doesn't make a lot of sense."
The law's next deadline isn't until mid-November, after the elections. But Democrats insisted the governor needs to start work now.
"Ignoring federal laws in hopes that someday they will be repealed is ridiculous and irresponsible policy making," said state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, who is running for Congress. "Walker, who falsely calls for increased bipartisanship, is once again pursuing his extremist policies at the expense of Wisconsin families."
The law will provide health care to about 30 million uninsured people by mandating all Americans carry health insurance and expanding Medicaid enrollment. Twenty-six states, including Wisconsin, filed a lawsuit challenging the legislation's constitutionality, particularly the insurance mandate. The court ruled 5-4 the mandate can stand because it can be considered a tax, but said the government can't cut funding for states that opt out of Medicaid expansion.
Republicans blasted the ruling as a tax increase. They promised the ruling would energize conservative voters and help GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney defeat Obama in Wisconsin. The state's business and insurance communities lambasted the law, too, saying it creates uncertainty for employers and will increase costs for consumers and employers.
"The court was wrong," said state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa. "We are left with virtually no limit on federal power. I believe this is a victory for the authoritarian state."
Wisconsin Democrats, meanwhile, praised the decision, saying it reaffirms the landmark legislation.
"Today's Supreme Court ruling will give relief, economic security, and predictability to those Wisconsin families, small businesses, and the tens of thousands of other Wisconsinites who will benefit once the Act is fully implemented," state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said in a statement.
The next major deadline will come in mid-November, when states must tell the federal government if they will build so-called health insurance exchanges - new online markets that people and businesses can browse for private coverage from a range of competing insurers. The exchanges also will serve as portals for joining Medicaid expansions, said state Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith.
The law calls for the exchanges to be operable by Jan. 1, 2014. The federal government will step in and build a common exchange for states that choose not to participate in November.
Most Republican-led states, including Wisconsin, have done little to set up their exchanges. Democrats and their allies pressured Walker Thursday to move ahead.
Robert Kraig, executive director of health advocacy group Citizen Action of Wisconsin, compared Walker to governors who refused to implement federal civil rights rulings.
"It's that kind of a stand against federal law and a court decision," Kraig said.
Smith, a Walker appointee, cautioned the Medicaid expansion opt-out has thrown the deadlines into doubt and created confusion about how exchanges would work in states that don't expand.
Walker's spokesman, Cullen Werwie, said work won't begin on the exchange until it is clear Obama has won re-election or Democrats took the House or Senate.
Asked at his news conference whether he felt he had to follow the law, the governor responded, "There are timelines all over the place. There are extensions all the time, at both the state and local levels."
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican who handled Wisconsin's participation in the states' lawsuit, said the governor must comply with the law's deadlines, but he stressed the law contains "liberal windows" and enforcement would be up to federal authorities, not him.
"With regard to all of the law with the exception of the Medicaid expansion," Van Hollen said, "it has been upheld by the highest court in our land."
Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison and Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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