Faced with a federal mandate of next January to show that they are making progress, Richmond legislators have dilly-dallied past the problem, many apparently fearful that too much action on setting up state-run exchanges for people to shop for health insurance will bring on conservative wrath.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will require that every American have a health insurance plan and requires the states to set up exchanges to offer plans to citizens who otherwise can’t find one. The act also does away with the “pre-existing condition” clause that allows insurance firms to turn down customers who they believe won’t make them as much in profits.

To be sure, many states are balking at Obamacare. A number of states, like Virginia, are in court seeking repeal of Obamacare on the grounds that forcing Americans to buy insurance violates their constitutional rights.

Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has been publicly silent recently on the legislative debate, but it is clear where he stands. He wants the state to avoid setting up exchanges until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Obamacare. As a potential GOP vice presidential candidate, he hardly wants to get too far ahead on a federal program despised by the right wing.

True, there are problems with the General Assembly’s attempts to set up the exchanges. One proposal would have the State Corporation Commission, which oversees private companies and utilities, do it. Critics say that the SCC is too consumer-unfriendly for the job. But alternative proposals to set up independent state agencies to handle the exchanges run into the anti-government crowd’s opposition.

With the clock ticking on this year’s session, it seems likely that nothing will get done. This once again raises the question of state vs. federal rights — one in which Virginia has a dark past. There is a tendency in the Old Dominion to ignore federal laws or court rulings it doesn’t like. The shining example is Massive Resistance, in which the state’s official policy was not to integrate schools and close many down rather than bow to the legal power of the U.S. Supreme Court.

There are echoes of that movement in what we’re seeing today.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.