Get ready for constitutional throwdown on healthcare legislation

Tue, 01/12/2010 - 4:42pm
By: Letters to the ...

As Congress works behind closed doors to merge the House and Senate healthcare bills, lawyers and attorneys general across the country are gearing up for a constitutional throw-down. At the center of the healthcare debate are two issues, the individual mandate and the Senate sweetheart deals.

The first issue up that the Supreme Court will most likely be asked to rule on is whether the Commerce clause gives Congress the authority to force an individual to purchase health insurance.

In 1995, the high court ruled on two cases, United States v. Lopez and United States v. Morrison, on the government’s use of the Commerce clause. In both cases, the high court said “it was outside the reach of Congress’s Commerce power.”

The Supreme Court rejected Congress’ argument that they had the power to regulate any and all activities by an individual. The Commerce clause gives Congress the authority to spend money but it does not give them the authority to tell individuals how they can spend their money.

A reporter with asked two Democratic senators what “specific part of the Constitution authorizes Congress to mandate that individuals must purchase health insurance.” Here are the answers and they are mind-boggling.

Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) stated the U.S. Constitution gives authority to the government “to provide for the health, welfare and the defense of the country.” But as pointed out, the word “health” isn’t mentioned in the Constitution. Burris’ Communications Director James O’Connor tried to help his boss out by saying the senator was referring to the Preamble of the Constitution, which covers the “general welfare.”

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), who couldn’t pinpoint the specific location of the Constitution that authorizes Congress to mandate such a purchase, compared mandating a citizen to purchase healthcare to registering for Selective Service. The senator said that making men sign up for the draft was “necessary for the functioning of the government.” Excuse me, but forcing people to buy insurance is not necessary for the government to function.

The sweetheart deals worked between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with several Democratic holdouts in order to obtain their vote will also be an issue the Supreme Court may also be asked to rule on.

The most famous deal is the Nebraska deal made with Senator Ben Nelson that will exempt Nebraska from having to cover the increased cost from the expansion of Medicaid. That cost will be covered by the remaining 49 states, some of which are hurting financially and can’t afford to take on any more expenses.

The 14th Amendment of the Constitution provides equal protection under the law. Giving some states a sweetheart deal to obtain their vote challenges that amendment. The attorney general of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, said “Quite obviously, this issue raises very serious concerns about equity, tax fairness as well as the constitutionality of having federal tax levies and mandates that treat one state differently from all the others.”

It appears our current leaders have forgotten what the Constitution says they can and can not do. Congress has the authority to regulate economic activity that an individual chooses to engage in, but they do not have the authority to mandate that an individual engage in the activity in the first place.

If Congress attempts to use the Commerce clause as its “legal” way to make us buy insurance, then what’s next? Do they make us buy a Toyota hybrid each year or require us to buy energy-efficient appliances?

In the case of Marbury vs. Madison (1803), Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, “The powers of the legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken, or forgotten, the Constitution is written.”

When Speaker Pelosi was asked if forcing Americans to purchase insurance was constitutional, her response was, “Are you serious?”

Well, yes, Madame Speaker, we are serious.

Laura Lunsford

Fayetteville, Ga.

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