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The Really Big Issues Edition.

1. The Health Care Law

The US Supreme Court announced this morning it will take up the 2010 health care reform law by hearing an appeal to the 11th Circuit ruling that threw out the controversial provision mandating that people  buy health insurance.

Not only will the oral arguments—a marathon five-and-a-half hour hearing set for March—come right in the middle of the 2012 Presidential campaign season (the law is a defining win for the Obama administration), but also during Washington State's gubernatorial campaign. The health care law is a big issue in Washington State's governor's race because Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, the Republican candidate, is one of the 26 AGs nationwide who signed on to the lawsuit against the law.

McKenna has found himself in a fix because he says he supports several aspects of the law—such as preventing insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions—but not the mandate. But the lawsuit goes after the law in full, not just the insurance mandate.

The Supreme Court said this morning that it will rule on both the mandate and whether the other aspects of the law are "severable" from that portion. The Obama administration says they are not. McKenna says they are.

The Court will also rule specifically on another aspect of the law—whether directing the states to adopt expanded eligibility requirements for Medicaid was constitutional. (Washington State already has broader eligibility requirements for Medicaid which allowed the state's Basic Health Plan to get an expedited infusion of cash during the most recent budget crisis).[pullquote]United for Marriage also says it's ready financially to defend the law at the ballot box when opponents of gay marriage, as they are expected to, challenge it. [/pullquote]

2. Gay Marriage

Washington United for Marriage, a gay rights group, is kicking off a campaign today to support a legislative effort in Olympia to pass a gay marriage bill. The group also says it's ready financially to defend the law at the ballot box when opponents of gay marriage, as they are expected to, challenge it with a referendum.

Recent polling showed that voters are likely to support a gay marriage law. (Voters have already signed off on the state's series of domestic partner laws enacted by the legislature between 2006 and 2009 giving gay and lesbian couples all the same legal rights and responsibilities as married couples by rejecting a ballot box challenge, R-71, in November 2009.)

The first heavy lift for proponents of gay marriage will be passing the law in the state senate where the Democratic slight 27-22 majority is diminished by a number of conservative Democrats who don't support the law. State Sen. Ed Murray (D-43), the senate sponsor of the domestic partners legislation and the lead advocate for gay marriage, told the Seattle Times this weekend that he's going to try to pass the bill this session.
Leaders of the newly formed gay-marriage coalition say their strategy will include a simple appeal for all gay and lesbian couples and their supporters to share their personal stories about what marriage equality would mean to them. They'll begin that effort with town halls this week in Vancouver, Puyallup, Lakewood and Gig Harbor, followed by others across the state.

"That is going to create the conversation we need ... so we can win in the Legislature," said Josh Friedes, Director of Marriage Equality with Equal Rights Washington, one of the group's organizers.

Murray said the coalition's commitment to organizing and fundraising was "a big deal," and one of the final steps he was waiting on to press ahead with a gay-marriage bill in the Legislature.

3. The Federal Budget

The super committee in D.C. co-chaired by US Sen. Patty Murray that's charged with finding $1.2 trillion in savings—or else face automatic cuts, including at least half-a-billion in cuts to the military—had a mini- breakthrough when Republicans on the committee said they would look at revenue options by closing tax loopholes for high-earners. The $300 billion in new revenue over ten years isn't enough for Democrats, but by allowing revenue in the mix the Republicans may have set the stage for a deal that would beat the November 23 deadline by allowing senate and house tax writing committees to come up with the specific revenue formulas at a later date.

4. The Environment

The Seattle Times reports that the Seattle City Council is considering a ban on plastic bags.

The Council tried to enact a .20 bag tax in 2008, but voters stopped it from going into effect in 2009 at the polls.