CASPER, Wyo. — Two years ago, Rep. Bob Brechtel tried to make it a crime to enforce the federal health reform law in Wyoming.
His bill easily cleared the Wyoming House of Representatives. But when it reached the upper chamber, Sen. Charles Scott killed the bill in committee.
Like Brechtel, Scott opposed the health reform law. But he insisted the bill was as an act of nullification and violated the U.S. Constitution.
"Boy, was Bob mad," Scott recalled recently. "[But] it would have just made us look extreme and silly."
It's not the first time the lawmakers, both Republicans from Natrona County, have been on the opposite side on an issue. They differ on government's role in health care and whether women should be offered ultrasounds before abortions.
Brechtel has represented House District 38 for 10 years. Now, he's giving up his house seat to challenge Scott in Senate District 30.
"It's just a matter of seeing a need for maybe stronger representation of more conservative values in the Senate, both fiscally and socially conservative values," Brechtel said.
Brechtel believes solid conservatives are needed to push back against an overreaching federal government that, in his view, is trampling religious freedoms and free enterprise.
"I stand strong on all of the Republican platforms," he said. "I don't believe [Scott's] actions indicate that he does."
Scott has been a critic of federal health reform and maintains Wyoming must examine regulations that it could do without. But he said he's also shown an ability to work across the aisle to pass legislation -- including the Hathaway Scholarship.
"I can get something done down there and he [Brechtel] can't -- or at least in 10 years, he's never shown any ability to," Scott said.
Scott suspects his decision to kill the nullification bill helped inspire Brechtel to run. The longtime rancher said he had the committee votes to defeat the bill, but chose not to bring it up anyway.
"I'm not a fan of 'Obamacare,'" Scott said. "But there is a lot more effective ways to fight against it than propose unconstitutional nullification acts, which is what he did."
Scott has offered his own program for reforming health care in Wyoming. Healthy Frontiers was designed to control health costs while expanding coverage to more of the uninsured. It used preventative care and incentives to help low-income patients manage chronic illnesses and avoid costly medical problems.
House lawmakers eliminated the program's funding during the last session. Scott doesn't know if it can be revived, but believes at least some of its features -- including its use of health savings accounts -- warrant a further look.
Killing the program didn't eliminate the need, Scott said.
"The 'just say no' strategy, it leaves you with a big group of people, between 15 and 20 percent [of the population], who can afford to pay something to heath care, but can't afford insurance," he explained. "You don't want to turn your back on them. It also costs the rest of us in higher hospital bills."
Brechtel contends government is not the most efficient way to handle health care. He argues the federal health reform law endangers personal rights by requiring insurance companies to cover contraception.
For those who truly can't afford coverage, he suggests a creating a system that encourages Wyoming doctors to volunteer their services in exchange for state assistance on the cost of their malpractice insurance.
"We don't want to throw the poor under the bus," Brechtel said. "We need to start moving in a direction that reinvigorates the free enterprise system to solve some of these problems."
While Brechtel maintains he is an opponent of government involvement in health care, he did sponsor legislation that would have required doctors to offer an ultrasound to women seeking abortions. The bill died before it reached the Senate, but Scott indicated he wouldn't have support it.