The BIG Dodge

Where is the constitutional authority for a federal mandate that individuals must buy health insurance?

Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat in red-state Nebraska, pleaded the Fifth: “Well, you know, uh, uh, I don’t know that I’m a constitutional scholar, so, I, I’m not going to be able to answer that question.”

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) likewise dodged the question, saying, “I’m not aware of [any constitutional authority], let me put it that way. But what we’re trying to do is to provide for people who have needs and that’s where the accessibility comes in, and one of the goals that we’re trying to present here is to make it accessible.” Right. “Provide” for them by mandating they do something under penalty of massive fines and/or imprisonment — that’s leftist “compassion” for you.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) answered, “The United States Congress passed laws regarding Medicare and Medicaid that became de facto mandatory programs. States all the time require people to have driver’s licenses. I think that this is a bit of a spurious argument that’s being made by some folks.” Uh, states require licenses only for the privilege of driving.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — one of two committees that wrote and approved health care legislation — pointed to precedent as justification: “Let me see. I would have to check the specific sections, so I’ll have to get back to you on the specific section, but it is not unusual that the Congress has required individuals to do things, like sign up for the draft, uh, uh, and do many other things too, which I don’t think are explicitly contained [in the Constitution]. It gives Congress a right to raise an army, but it doesn’t say you can take people and draft them, uh, but since that was something necessary for the functioning of the government over the past several years, the practice on the books, it’s been recognized, the authority to do that.” So because Congress has acted unconstitutionally before, they can do it again now? Our guess is he understands health care about as well as he comprehends the Constitution.

In contrast, in a famous incident in 1854, President Franklin Pierce was pilloried for vetoing an extremely popular bill intended to help mentally ill. The act was championed by the renowned 19th century social reformer Dorothea Dix. In the face of heavy criticism, Pierce countered: “I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for the public charity.” To approve such spending, argued Pierce, “would be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded.”

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