The final push for health care is this week, and one question remains: Is the individual mandate that forces citizens to purchase health care insurance a constitutional power of the federal government? The Heritage Foundation recently released legal analysis concluding that a mandate forcing all Americans into a contractual agreement with a private party for health insurance is unprecedented and not a constitutionally permissible activity by the federal government.
Unprecedented and Unconstitutional
The federal government has never required all Americans to buy any good or service. An individual mandate to enter into a contract with or buy a particular product from a private party, with tax penalties to enforce it, is unprecedented and flies in the face of our founding principles and a reasonable reading of judicial precedent. Nowhere in the Constitution is Congress given the power to mandate that an individual enter into a contract with a private party or purchase a good or service and no decision or present doctrine of the Supreme Court justifies such a claim of power.
What Supporters of ObamaCare Will Tell You
The proponents of expansive federal power hang their hat on the “Commerce Clause” of the constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3) for Congress’s authority to mandate health care insurance for citizens. Supporters of the federal individual mandate argue that, under its power to “regulate commerce…among the several states,” Congress may regulate the doing of nothing at all. In other words, because Congress has the power to regulate business between the states, it must have the authority to demand it from individuals. If this mandate is allowed to stand, it would be the first use of the Commerce Clause to universally mandate an activity by all citizens of the United States.
The most common argument used to justify a federal mandate to purchase health insurance is the talking point that states are allowed to force individuals to buy car insurance before they are allowed to drive. However, there is a fundamental constitutional difference between the inherent police powers of the states and the enumerated powers of the national government not to mention that driving is a voluntary activity. You don’t have to have auto insurance if you don’t drive a car or dont drive on state roads, and states require drivers to maintain auto insurance only to cover injuries to others not themselves like an individual mandate would do. The analogy between a state mandating auto insurance for those who drive and mandatory health insurance for all is flawed at best.
A Dangerous Precedent
Just how far does this abuse of power extend? If Congress can impose a health-insurance mandate, then there is no limit to what Congress can do, and the Constitution’s limits on congressional power will have essentially been eliminated. Heritage legal scholar Todd Gaziano persuasively argues that given the federal governments recent interest in bailing out the auto industry, Congress could relying on the very argument it is using to mandate health care purchases require every American to buy a new Chevy Impala every year to boost sales at Government Motors, or a pay a “tax” equivalent to its blue book value.
There are countless of reasons to hate ObamaCare, yet the issue over the constitutionality of the mandate has yet to receive serious consideration. Our Founding Fathers intentionally outlined limited powers for Congress and the federal government in the Constitution, and it would be good to look back to Americas first principles to guide us on health reform.