Obamacare has suffered a devastating blow. On Friday, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the individual mandate in President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation is unconstitutional. With its ruling, the court affirmed the principle that the Constitution means what it says—Congress does not have unfettered power to force the American people to comply with any and all dictates it creates.
The federal government’s argument in favor of Obamacare’s individual mandate, in contrast, is without limit—and it’s a position that the court strongly rejected:
The government’s position amounts to an argument that the mere fact of an individual’s existence substantially affects interstate commerce, and therefore Congress may regulate them at every point of their life. This theory affords no limiting principles in which to confine Congress’s enumerated power….
The federal government’s assertion of power, under the Commerce Clause, to issue an economic mandate for Americans to purchase insurance from a private company for the entire duration of their lives is unprecedented, lacks cognizable limits, and imperils our federalist structure.
The Obama Administration wasted no time in decrying the ruling, reasserting its argument that the individual mandate is constitutional—cleverly calling it an “individual responsibility” provision and hanging its hat on an earlier decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals which upheld the law. But the significance of last week’s opinion cannot be easily undone with clever wordsmithing, spin—or claims of partisanship, given that one of the authors of the ruling, Judge Frank Hull, was appointed by President Bill Clinton.
The Heritage Foundation’s Todd Gaziano and Robert Alt explain what the decision means for the President and for Obamacare’s future:
In short, the Obama administration has lost its battle to delay review of the individual mandate until after the 2012 election. Until today, there was at least a chance that the Supreme Court would pass on the case until after its forthcoming term, but now, with a split between the Eleventh Circuit and Sixth Circuit, the High Court will have little choice but to take the case and resolve the fate of the forced-purchase mandate. After over a year of delaying tactics, the Obama Administration has no more options to slow-walk the constitutional end-game for the mandate.
Our best estimate is that the case will be argued either in late March or in April 2012. The Court will issue its decision near the end of its term in June, during the presidential candidate nominating season.
Though the Eleventh Circuit only struck down the individual mandate and related must-carry provisions, it could be the thread that unravels the sweater. And the Supreme Court’s decision can’t come soon enough. The more America learns about Obamacare, the worse it becomes.
Obamacare has far-reaching consequences for all corners of American society, the economy chief among them. In addition to the unconstitutional individual mandate, Obamacare includes more than $500 billion in new taxes, burdensome new paperwork for business owners, and penalties for companies with more than 50 workers that do not provide employees with a mandated level of health coverage. And with the added costs Obamacare brings, the nation’s publicly held debt will be $753 billion higher at the end of 2020.
Heritage’s Kathryn Nix writes, “Heritage’s Center for Data Analysis simulated the overall effects of the new law on the economy and found that Obamacare would result in reduced investment in the U.S. economy and a loss of 670,000 job opportunities every year.” With 9.1 percent unemployment and an average duration of unemployment hitting a record high of 40 weeks, the last thing the U.S. economy needs is another anchor weighing it down. As Heritage analyst Curtis Dubay explains, the law “will slow economic growth, reduce employment, and suppress wages. These economy-slowing policies could not come at a worse time. [Obamacare] tax increases will impede an already staggering recovery.”
To date, 28 states have challenged the constitutionality of Obamacare in court. A federal circuit court has struck down a central pillar of the law, holding that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. The judges have affirmed a truth that Americans already know: When Congress passed Obamacare and the President signed it into law, they crossed a constitutional line in the sand. Fortunately, the courts are holding that line, and now it is up to the U.S. Supreme Court to make it final.