JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- For nine hours Wednesday, Democrats in the Missouri Senate stalled work on a proposed constitutional amendment rejecting a federal health insurance mandate.
Discussion of the issue began Wednesday morning and continued into the evening. The measure was put aside without a vote. If approved, it would go before voters in the next election.
President Barack Obama signed the national health care measure Tuesday.
The law requires almost all Americans to acquire health insurance or else pay a fine, which takes effect in 2014. There is an exemption for low-income people.
The proposed amendment would prohibit the federal government from compelling workers or employers to have health insurance.
Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, is sponsoring the amendment. She and other supporters contend that Congress can't force Americans to buy health insurance or any other product.
She said the measure is about protecting personal liberties, not about telling the federal government what to do.
Cunningham said her amendment will let people choose whether to accept federal health care without being penalized.
"Missourians will lose absolutely nothing if this amendment passes," she said.
"They can choose the government plan or they can choose anything else they want."
Democrats contend that the federal mandate is similar to a mandate passed last week in the Missouri Senate that would require insurers to cover treatment for autistic children.
Minority Floor Leader Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Independence, said the federal government has the right to levy taxes, fines and penalties.
"Social Security per se is not in the Constitution," Callahan said. "I don't see it in the Constitution but it appears to be on my check every two weeks."
Some Republican lawmakers said their problem with the overhaul legislation goes beyond health care. They say it's about states' rights.
Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, said the federal government has overstepped its power in placing such a mandate.
"If the federal government is going to make all the decisions for us, why are we here?" Lembke said.
Lembke questioned why some people expect the government to fix the problem.
"Be your brother's keeper," he said. it's not the government's role to be your brother's keeper."
Conservative lawmakers in more than two-thirds of the states are forging ahead with constitutional amendments to ban government health insurance mandates. Many of those proposals are targeted for the November ballot, assuring that health care remains a hot topic as hundreds of federal and state lawmakers face re-election.