Republican candidate for governor Meg Whitman said Tuesday that California should move to block the newly signed national healthcare plan because it would deepen the state's budget deficit, even if some elements were acceptable to introduce down the road.
Whitman was asked by an attendee at a Redondo Beach campaign event whether as governor she would "force your attorney general to file suit" against the reforms, as more than a dozen attorneys general in other states have said they would.
"The answer to that is yes," said Whitman, drawing the most sustained, and loudest, applause of the hourlong event.
When questioned by reporters afterward, however, she conceded that she would not have the power as governor to demand such a move from the independently elected attorney general.
"I wouldn't order him to; I would strongly encourage him to," she said. "I don't think you can actually order the attorney general."
Whitman also said that part of the problem with obtaining insurance in the state is that "right now, there is truly a limit on the number of insurance companies that are allowed to sell insurance in California."
That, she said, has meant that a minimal number of companies exert outsize power over premiums. She cited the case of Anthem, whose requests for rate hikes of up to 39% for individual insurance unleashed anger at the industry.
But state officials said there is no such limit; all companies that agree to California's standards of coverage can be approved.
Whitman appeared to be referring to a GOP proposal to allow out-of-state companies to sell policies in California under the rules that apply in the states where they are based. Opponents argue that would negate consumer protections that exist in California and some other states, and lead insurance companies to set up shop in the least-demanding states.
The billionaire former head of EBay and the front-runner for the GOP nomination in June's primary, Whitman said two parts of the hotly contested federal legislation were valuable: bans on refusing insurance coverage for those with preexisting conditions and on the practice of canceling consumers once they become ill.
But, she added, those elements should not take effect until other pieces are in place, such as electronic record-keeping and fraud elimination. She also objected to the requirement that all Americans buy health insurance. That was the mechanism that was to, in effect, finance the coverage of the sick and those with preexisting conditions.
To snickers from her audience of South Bay Republicans, Whitman noted that it was the likely Democratic nominee for governor, Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who has declined to challenge the healthcare bill in court. (Most of those who have announced plans to sue are Republicans).
"This will create another $3-billion unfunded mandate for California at a time when we can least afford it," she said, referring to projected increases in healthcare spending for the poor.
Before an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred, Whitman repeated her campaign themes. She defended her proposals for targeted tax cuts aimed at luring business to the state, saying that "we can't actually afford an across-the-board tax cut right this very minute."
Her opponent in the Republican primary, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, favors such a cut.
She also defended herself against Poizner advertisements that criticize her on the subject of illegal immigration. Whitman said she was "100% against amnesty " -- despite seeming to advocate a "path to legalization" for the undocumented last year. But she refused to second Poizner's proposal to deny education and healthcare to illegal immigrant children.
"I can't go that far," she said. "I don't think children should be held accountable for the sins of their parents."