WASHINGTON — Maine Attorney General William Schneider and Rep. Chellie Pingree have very different views on President Barack Obama’s health care law, but they agree on one thing: It’s tough to predict how the Supreme Court will rule on the landmark legislation.

Pingree, D-1st District, attended Wednesday’s morning oral arguments, while Schneider, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate, was on hand for the afternoon session.

Pingree, a health care law proponent, said it was valuable for her to gain the perspective of the highest court in the land scrutinizing the work done by her and other lawmakers.

“In Congress we think only about the actual making of the law, forgetting that they will be interpreted and that there are decisions that will be made down the road about we structure laws and how we do our work,” Pingree said after the morning session. “I thought it was very educational really to hear how the justices look at their job and how they compare this law to other laws.”

Asked if she thought the justices would uphold all or part of the health care law, Pingree said that she is “not an expert on Supreme Court interpretation. I can’t actually tell what they are going to do.”

Pingree is one of a number of members of Congress who walked across the street this week to attend a portion of the three days worth of arguments over the health care law.

She and Schneider saw each other in passing inside the Supreme Court building, as Pingree was leaving and Schneider was arriving.

Schneider isn’t one of the lawyers arguing the case. But Maine is one of 26 states that signed on to the lawsuit against the health care reform law, arguing that the law’s mandate for individuals to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

Schneider said that it is traditional for Maine attorneys general to be on hand when the state is a party to a Supreme Court case.

“I think it’s important for the people of Maine to know that they’re a plaintiff in the suit and that they’re represented here by me,” Schneider said.

Schneider is paying for the trip partly out of his own pocket, and partly with money from a Maine Attorney General’s Office “settlement account,” according to his office. That account is not taxpayer funds, but money won through litigation such as consumer anti-trust cases, his office said.

The argument Schneider attended focused on the requirement that states expand the Medicaid health care program for the poor. Schneider believes that mandate, too, is unconstitutional.

Schneider said he was encouraged by the questions asked about the Medicaid expansion by some of the justices. They were “couching it in terms of an offer states can’t refuse” and probing about the penalty the secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services agency can impose if the states reject the Medicaid expansion mandated by the law.

“It left me feeling that they really are taking this question seriously, that there is certainly a chance that the court will find the Medicaid expansion unconstitutional,” Schneider said.

But Schneider agreed with Pingree that it’s difficult to interpret how the justices feel based on what they ask during the oral arguments.

“It’s very hard to tell,” Schneider said. “You can’t judge from the questioning whether they are on your side or not. A lot of times they will ask probing questions to try to define the issue.”

Pingree was present while the justices heard arguments over whether the entire law has to be thrown out if any one part of it — such as the individual mandate — is ruled unconstitutional.

Pingree says she believes the law should be allowed to stand intact, noting there are a slew of consumer protections in it such as access to health insurance coverage for people with a pre-existing condition and a ban on insurance companies canceling insurance if someone gets sick.

“I hope the fundamentals of the law aren’t interfered with, frankly,” Pingree said after the court’s morning argument. “I voted in favor of the piece of legislation and I think it’s better if we have all the pieces there.”

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, a financier and frequent Democratic donor who is a majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which owns the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets in Maine.

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

[email protected]

Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC


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