COLUMBIA, S.C. - Republican attorneys general in 13 states, including Pennsylvania, say congressional leaders must remove Nebraska's political deal from the federal health-care overhaul bill or face legal action, according to a letter provided yesterday to the Associated Press.

"We believe this provision is constitutionally flawed," South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, who organized the effort, and the 12 others wrote in the letter being sent last night to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.).

On Christmas Eve, Senate Democrats followed the House in pushing through a sweeping health-care bill, crushing a year-end Republican filibuster against President Obama's call to remake the U.S. health-care system.

Republican U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint of South Carolina raised questions about the Senate bill, which they said had been amended to win the support of Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.). Senate Democrats needed the votes of all 60 members of their caucus to pass the bill.

'Take action'

Last week, McMaster said he was leading several other attorneys general in an inquiry into the constitutionality of the estimated $100 million deal that he has dubbed the "Cornhusker Kickback."

Besides McMaster, the letter was signed by Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett and his counterparts in Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington state.

"As chief legal officers of our states we are contemplating a legal challenge to this provision and we ask you to take action to render this challenge unnecessary by striking that provision," they wrote.

McMaster, Corbett, and the Florida and Michigan attorneys general are all running for governor in their states.

Corbett, in a news release, said his office was conducting a legal analysis of the constitutionality of the deal granting Nebraska a permanent exemption from paying Medicaid expenses that all other states must pay.

Nelson's TV ad

A House-Senate conference committee is to begin meeting next year to craft a compromise health bill. Experts expect that the talks are likely to last into February.

If the bill wins final approval with the benefit to Nebraska intact, McMaster said, taxpayers in the 49 other states will have to pay for it.

Corbett said the deal "could have dire financial consequences for Pennsylvania taxpayers."

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D., S.C.) said the letter was a political ploy.

"This threat stinks of partisan politics," he said in a statement. "If Henry McMaster wants to write federal law he should run for Congress not governor."

Meanwhile, Nelson is taking his message on a health-care overhaul directly to his constituents.

In a TV ad starting during last night's Nebraska-Arizona Holiday Bowl football game, the Democrat says he stuck by his principles throughout the debate and doesn't want Nebraskans to be confused on his position.