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Levy, Lazio push legal challenge to federal health bill

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy calls on the

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy calls on the state legislature to act on the property tax cap, during a press conference in Hauppauge Wednesday afternoon. (March 31, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

Hoping to put the spotlight on his possible Democratic opponent for governor, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy says State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo should join other states in legally challenging the new federal health care plan.

Levy, a newly converted Republican vying for the GOP nomination against former Rep. Rick Lazio, said Cuomo should join at least 14 other states in testing the constitutionality of the health care overhaul. Levy said the bill would burden New York with extra Medicaid costs.

But Lazio's camp called Levy a Johnny-come-lately on the issue, pointing to a March 25 letter that Lazio sent to Cuomo urging him to sue to stop the health package. Lazio also said Levy, in his 2007 re-election bid for county executive, also favored an even more liberal health plan than the one passed last month by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama.

A political aide to Cuomo referred questions to the attorney general's office, which did not respond to several requests for comment Thursday.

Levy told reporters this week that New York is unable to pay the extra money he said the new federal bill would require of states.

"We're going to get clobbered with the money we have to expand to pay for the increased Medicaid roll," Levy said. "It's the biggest mandate from Washington in quite some time on state and local governments . . . It's a bad program. I hope they can fight it back."

In his letter to Cuomo, Lazio argued that "Congress does not have the power to force New Yorkers to purchase services or products that they may not want under the threat of government fines or taxes. It's wrong."

Barney Keller, Lazio's spokesman, also noted that Levy supported a single-payer health system in 2007 when Levy, then a Democrat, was seeking the endorsement of the Working Families Party. The single-payer approach, in which a government-run organization collects health care fees and pays out all costs, was supported by liberal Democrats but opposed staunchly by Republicans and was not included in the final bill.

Levy's spokesman, Josh Hills, said Levy supported a single-payer approach in 2007 because it would relieve Suffolk of paying its share of Medicaid. But as governor, Levy would oppose the new health care bill because of the added monies it would require from the state and local governments in coming years, Hills said.

Dan Cantor, statewide executive director of the Working Families Party, on Thursday criticized Levy for flip-flopping on the idea of universal health care coverage. "The real Steve Levy needs to stand up . . .," said Cantor. "I don't know what he believes."

Also Thursday, Levy at a Manhattan news conference attacked Lazio for a $1.3 million bonus he received from JPMorgan Chase, a Wall Street investment firm where he worked last year, and for supporting a congressional deregulation bill in 1999 that ended the longtime separation between banking and other financial services. Some economists believe the deregulation helped fuel the recent Wall Street financial crisis.

A Lazio spokesman noted that Lazio himself disclosed his bonus from JPMorgan several months ago. The spokesman had no further comment.

With Dan Janison

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