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Published: Monday, 2/7/2011

Unkindest cut of all

From Washington, D.C., to Florida, as well as in statehouses from Ohio to Alabama, opposition to "Obamacare" continues to provide political theater. But as Shakespeare's Macbeth said of life, such gestures are "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

In Washington, House Republicans made a show last month of repealing the health-care reform act in a largely party-line vote. But last week, the effort faltered - as Republicans knew it would - in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where not a single member of either party broke ranks.

In Columbus, Republican lawmakers - faced with a moribund economy, high unemployment, and a frightening projected budget shortfall - chose to make federal health-care reform their priority last week. They proposed a state constitutional amendment that would allow Ohio to opt out of the mandates in the reform law that nearly all Americans must buy health insurance and all employers of a certain size must insure their workers or face fines. Even if voters were to approve the constitutional change, it likely could not withstand the almost-certain court challenges it would face.

Ohio's new Republican attorney general, Mike DeWine, has joined his counterparts in more than two dozen other states to challenge the law in federal court. They contend it violates individual and states' rights.

Two federal judges have upheld the health-care law, and one has struck down the individual mandate. Last week, a Florida judge declared the entire law invalid.

The case inevitably will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, with or without Mr. DeWine's participation. But joining the fray landed the former U.S. senator an interview by Fox News.

Elsewhere, 10 states are considering bills that would nullify Obamacare. These efforts are based on the belief that individual states' rights trump federal power on every issue.

Nullification is a popular argument any time individual states disagree with federal law, but courts always have rejected it. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in 1958 that states are bound by federal laws.

Most of these performances are not staged to help ensure affordable, high-quality health care for all Americans. They are designed instead to keep voters' passions high, in the hope of building in 2012 on electoral gains Republicans made last year.

Instead of tilting at states'-rights windmills, opponents should offer comprehensive reforms or alternatives to the health-care law. They haven't, because using the law as a framework for change might suggest it is not an evil socialist plot by a radical, left-wing President. That would be anathema to GOP strategy for winning the White House next year.

And the conclusion is inescapable that Republicans haven't laid out a better alternative because they don't have one. That, as another Shakespearean character might say, is the unkindest cut of all.

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