The Supreme Court is currently conducting a marathon three-day session of oral arguments on the challenges to ObamaCare, an almost unprecedented amount of time for the Court to consider any case. But the ObamaCare issue isn’t just another case, or even just another case involving weighty constitutional issues. If the Court upholds ObamaCare’s individual mandate, it will put the final nail in the coffin of the federal government being a government of limited, enumerated powers. If the federal government can force everyone to buy health insurance, there’s not much holding the federal government back from forcing us to buy certain foods, drive certain cars, or engage in any other activity that the federal government deems (in its infinite wisdom) to be for the “common good.”
ObamaCare supporters argue that health care is somehow different from everything else: because we will all use the health care system at some point in our lives, the government has a higher interest in regulating it and making sure that costs are allocated “fairly.” There’s a huge flaw in that argument: it’s a license for unlimited government power. As the example goes, why couldn’t the government make everyone buy broccoli? After all, you must participate in the market for food. Even those wraith-thin supermodels have to eat at one point or another. And broccoli is good for you, which would reduce health care costs. So why can’t Michelle Obama make everyone eat broccoli, or choose to pay a “penalty?”
For that matter, since the Chevy Volt is a massive taxpayer-financed boondoggle, why not mandate that everyone must buy a Chevy Volt or pay a “penalty?” After all, everyone must somehow participate in the “transportation market,” even those people whose only interaction with the market is when they buy their motorized wheelchair to carry their beached-whale bodies to the local buffet. So why not just mandate that everyone buy a Chevy Volt or pay a fine?
In fact, since Disney is taking a bath on John Carter, why shouldn’t they lobby Congress to make everyone in the country see the movie or pay a fine? After all, everyone participates in the “entertainment market” too.
And that’s the major constitutional problem with ObamaCare: a broccoli mandate, a Chevy Volt mandate, a John Carter mandate, they’re all separated from the individual insurance mandate by degree, not by principle.
The individual mandate is the most sweeping power grab of our generation—in terms of real-world impact it makes the PATRIOT Act look timid. And yet there’s been nowhere near the outcry about ObamaCare as they has been about the PATRIOT Act.
The Tax Man (Doesn’t) Cometh
The government has argued that the individual mandate’s penalty really is a tax. The reason why the government makes this argument is because of a federal law called the Anti-Injunction Act. The Anti-Injunction Act is a federal law that prevents people from challenging taxes in courts as a way of getting out of paying taxes. In other words, if the Court bought this argument, the challenges to ObamaCare would fail.
The government’s argument that the ObamaCare penalty really is a “tax” doesn’t save them. For one, it’s an argument that goes against the facts: nothing in the health care law makes the penalty into a tax other than the fact that it was shoved into the Internal Revenue Code. The President and Congressional Democrats were adamant that it was not really a tax, otherwise they would be accused of breaking their promise not to raise taxes on the middle class. Nor is the tax But when it became legally convenient to say that the “penalty” really was a tax, the government is now making that argument. But the penalty isn’t a tax in either form or substance, so that argument is unlikely to go anywhere. And, based on the Court’s skeptical questions in today’s arguments, it looks like the tax argument isn’t likely to carry much weight.
Kill (the) Bill
The problems with ObamaCare are legion, not only is it bad policy, but it sets a precedent that wipes away the system of checks and balances that keep our system of government functioning. The Supreme Court has this opportunity to stand up for the established constitutional order and strike down the individual mandate as a violation of both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. If they do not, the costs could be grave. There’s not only the risk of eroding freedoms, but there’s a much more concrete risk as well: ObamaCare is bad law. It won’t make health care cheaper, it won’t make it easier for people to see a doctor, it won’t save lives. It will create a system where medical care is artificially limited by the government (both directly and indirectly). If that sounds a bit like a “death panel” concept, it should. Because that’s what has to happen: the government has no magic fairy wand that they can waive over our healthcare system to make health care cost less. The only way to reduce costs is to ration, and that’s exactly what would have to be done in order to make ObamaCare work.
But the Supreme Court isn’t concerned with health care policy, at least not directly. Their concern is with the question of whether ObamaCare is consistent with our constitutional order. It is not. The individual mandate in ObamaCare is no less unconstitutional than a broccoli mandate, a Chevy Volt mandate, or a mandate to see John Carter. The Commerce Clause isn’t a blank check for the government to take effective control of an entire sector of the American economy. The Supreme Court should serve as ObamaCare’s “death panel.”