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Originally published Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 10:50 AM

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Conservatives push amendment for repeal

Conservative activists are looking to build momentum for a long-shot amendment to the Constitution, introduced Wednesday in the U.S. House, that would allow states to repeal pieces of federal legislation they find onerous.

Associated Press

WASHINGTON —

Conservative activists are looking to build momentum for a long-shot amendment to the Constitution, introduced Wednesday in the U.S. House, that would allow states to repeal pieces of federal legislation they find onerous.

The measure's first target: President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Dozens of state lawmakers have announced their backing of the proposal that would allow statehouses and governors to block laws or regulations from Washington. Although Democrats' massive health care law is their favorite target, the supporters also point to environmental, education and business measures that require states to act.

"This is about restoring balance," said Randy Barnett, a Georgetown University law professor who likened the so-called Repeal Amendment with giving states a veto pen similar to the president's.

As introduced in the U.S. House, the one-paragraph measure would give state lawmakers and governors the power to strike down any law or regulation that Washington puts in place.

But even its supporters recognize the difficulty of amending the Constitution. Lawmakers propose dozens of constitutional amendments every year but these proposals rarely come to a vote and the chances of gaining the supermajorities needed for approval are always slim. Even then, three-fourths of state legislatures must ratify a measure before the Constitution is amended.

If the amendment were eventually adopted, states would then have sweeping power to nix Washington's priorities if opponents can bundle two-thirds of capitals in unison.

"If you get two-thirds of the states going against something, it's pretty clear it is wrong," said Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who introduced the amendment. "It's not necessarily about health care, but you can see why we're talking about it."

Supporters recognize the challenge to get 34 states to make a coordinated push to dismantle Washington's laws or regulations and such a move is not a top priority of Republican leaders in Congress. But supporters also point to an angry public that gave Republicans control of the House and gains in the Senate on the promise of rolling back the Democrats' health law.

"The threshold is so high, it's never been reached," said Missouri state Sen. Jane Cunningham, a Republican. "But I have never seen a topic that has been so heated (as health care)."

Voters in her state overwhelmingly said in August they wanted the government to drop its requirement that residents have health insurance or pay penalties for not having it. The 71 percent anti-health overhaul vote was largely symbolic, but it was the nation's first statewide test of Obama's signature achievement at the ballot box.

Republicans were swept to power on Nov. 2, gaining at least 62 new seats in the U.S. House and picked up 10 governorships. The party also gained control of 19 state legislative chambers and now hold their highest level of state legislative seats since 1928.

Forty-two states' legislatures have introduced or plan to introduce measures that would limit the health care law from taking hold. Six of those have already passed laws attempting to limit its reach and two have passed legislation that is serving as a model for those looking at the Repeal Amendment.

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