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News / Business

AG talks to packed house in B.G.

McKenna shares insight on federal health care reform, minimum wage

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor
Published: January 7, 2011, 12:00am

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna predicted Thursday that a multistate challenge to last year’s federal health care reform law could reach the U.S. Supreme Court next year or in 2013, ahead of the scheduled implementation date of the highly contested law.

McKenna, speaking at a packed lunchtime meeting of the Battle Ground Chamber of Commerce at the city’s community center, said the legal challenge against a mandate for universal health care coverage turns on the central question of federal authority. “It’s the most important case involving federal power of our lifetime,” the second-term Republican said.

McKenna has come under attack from some Democrats, including Gov. Chris Gregoire, for signing onto a challenge by almost two dozen states to the health care reform law. The attorney general typically represents state officials or agencies, but he is allowed by state law to bring lawsuits independently on behalf of the state’s residents.

Sympathetic audience

Addressing a sympathetic audience, McKenna offered a wide range of views on business and political issues. The Bellevue resident is widely considered a potential candidate for governor, but no one asked him Thursday about his future political plans.

McKenna said the current economic downturn is a warning not to take the state’s prosperity for granted. He praised Battle Ground for its quick approval of plans for a new Vancouver Clinic, contrasting the city’s speedy action with a costly, slow regulatory process that Boeing faced during an expansion in Everett. McKenna’s most impassioned moment came when he talked about Boeing’s 2001 move of its corporate headquarters in Seattle to Chicago.

“It still kills me when I read in the Wall Street Journal, ‘Chicago-based Boeing,’” he said. “That is so wrong.”

McKenna praised Indiana for opening a trade office in California, a state with high taxes and declining public services. “We need to be more like Indiana and not like California,” he said. He also made note of Oregon’s perceived anti-business attitude, which he said contributed to that state’s unemployment rate, higher-than-average even in good economic times.

In response to a question about Washington’s high minimum wage, McKenna said it would be up to voters to change the voter-approved minimum wage law, which adjusts automatically to reflect changes in the cost of living. But he said a high minimum wage contributes to increased unemployment among young workers and minorities, and he suggested that a “training wage” could create jobs and opportunities for young people to learn work and life skills.

McKenna opened by praising Battle Ground, saying he last visited when he participated in a parade in 2004. The booming city, he said, “is in many ways an ideal community in Washington state” because it offers a safe environment, affordable housing, good schools, and economic opportunity.

“It’s very easy to understand why so many people have chosen Battle Ground,” he said.

Columbian Business Editor