It is not without a sense of amusement that we see that the very people who have been the most vocal critics of America's “mindless” consumerism are now among the most ardent supporters of the soon-to-be-law health care bill, which, for the first time in history, gives the federal government power to compel the purchase of a commercial commodity.
To those who do not ascribe to a legislative environment where “we make the rules up as we go along” – as Rules Committee member Alcee Hastings said Friday – the new, personal mandate on health insurance raises a quaint question about whether the Constitution actually permits the federal government to force Americans to buy health care.
Clearly the Democratic leadership in Congress thinks so.
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked last autumn about the constitutionality of the federal mandate, she looked positively incredulous saying, “Are you serious?”
At the White House yesterday, Press spokesman Robert Gibbs said the Administration was confident that the health care law would prevail in any legal challenge, specifically in light of actions initiated by up to a dozen States' Attorneys' General who are challenging the constitutionality of this provision of health care reform.
But is it that cut and dried?
Article VI, Clause 2 of the Constitution seems compelling for Mrs. Pelosi and the Democrats.
“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”
So essentially, if Congress says so, then it is so.
And if that wasn't enough, there is the specific constitutional authority regarding interstate commerce.
Congress has the authority to” …regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.“
Private sector health insurance is a commercial commodity – at least for now.
The Constitution is a document of enumerated rights, specifically designed to – hold on to your hats my friends on the left – limit the power of the federal government.
Suitably suspicious of centralized government power after a lifetime of monarchical tyranny, the Founders whimsically believed that as essential as it was to have a strong federal government, it was equally essential to prescribe and limit its powers.
If that wasn't clear in the architecture of the Constitution itself, it was made clear in the Bill of Rights; specifically the 10th Amendment.
“X – The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
So, federal powers are finite and specified, with the remainder reserved for the States and people.
Now let's compare.
If you look at the 10th Amendment in light of the “Supremacy” clause in Article VI, it would appear that the 10th Amendment trumps legislation that exceeds the enumerated powers of the Federal government. Like, say, mandating citizens buy health care.
Obamacare supporters would immediately reference the Interstate Commerce clause.
But upon only cursory review, this authority has generally been used to harmonize and unburden inter-state commerce, and prevent states from complicating the free flow of commerce. And while the power of the clause has been expanded in 230 years – successfully invoked by the US government in support of the Clean Air Act governing inter-state pollution – it has never been used as a justification to mandate the purchase of a commodity.
And if one seeks to frame the federal mandate to purchase health care as a revenue mechanism, the 16th Amendment prescribes the manner in which the federal government can do so.
“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”
But clearly the mandate to buy insurance is not an income tax. Or for that matter is it an excise tax, tariff or sales tax, previously used to fund government.
So where does the authority to mandate that Americans buy health insurance derive from?
The fact is that there is no Constitutional basis for the mandate. It has never been done in American history. The action by Congress places the nation in uncharted waters.
Indeed, as Cap and Trade legislation seeks to monetize the air we breathe, Obamacare seeks to monetize American citizenship.
This is unprecedented.
Remember, this is not an argument on the merits of Americans being required to carry health insurance. That debate can be left to the partisans and policy scribes. It is simply a matter of the fundamental legality of the provision.
It is sad that in today's political environment that it is necessary to point out, that because something is seen as “good,” does not make it legal.
But in their genius, the Founders provided a mechanism to alter the law of the land to allow future generations of Americans to meet the challenges and circumstances of their time. Gamely, a method that requires the direct participation of the citizenry to build and demonstrate consensus – a constitutional amendment.
Can you already see the crestfallen look on the faces of Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid?
It seems that where ever they turn, Democrats keep on running into the pesky democratic process and a truculent citizenry with ideas of their own.
Striking down this federal mandate will be controversial, necessarily igniting a robust debate on the seperation of powers. But to leave it in place would be to make a farce out of the Constitution.
Time to stand up and be counted.