by Daniel Gardner
This week the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up one of the most - if not the most - consequential cases in the history of the United States when it hears arguments over whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is constitutional.
One of the key arguments is whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to force individuals to purchase something from private businesses or to pay a penalty for not buying something we don't want to buy…in this case health insurance.
To most laymen, this is a no-brainer. Should the federal government have the power to force you to purchase…healthy food? How about forcing you to buy a gym membership? Or, what if the federal government could force you to purchase a diet meal plan? All of these purchases would be intended for your own good, of course.
To top off this power, what if the federal government said if you don't purchase one of the above, then you must pay a penalty? You may not want to purchase any of the above, or you may not be able to purchase any of the above. Nevertheless, what if the federal government said in effect, "Too bad. You have to purchase one of these things or you have to pay the IRS a penalty every year until you buy one of the things we tell you to buy."
At this point in the argument you may be wondering, "Who in the world would be so audacious to pass such a law in the first place?" Well, the Democrats in Washington passed this legislation in 2010 and President Obama signed the bill into law March 23, 2010. No Republicans voted for this law. Now you know.
Frankly, I don't like either Republicans or Democrats because both parties have gotten us into so many messes I'd like to get rid of them all. We'd be better off selecting names randomly from telephone pages and asking people to serve as our representatives in Washington. But, in this particular case the Republicans demonstrated more common sense than Democrats even if it was to spite them.
Curiously, the Tenth Amendment is the part of the Constitution under the Court's scrutiny. It reads, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." I say "curiously" because it seems obvious this amendment gives rights to the states and we the people that are not explicitly given to the federal government. One would think! I mean, where in the Constitution is the part about health care?
The other major part of the Constitution that plays a leading role in this case is the so-called "commerce clause" otherwise known as Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which reads, "To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes…."
So, here's the rub: if you purchase health insurance from a company that does business in multiple states, the federal government has the authority to regulate your purchase. What if you haven't purchased health insurance? Then, the federal government cannot regulate something you have not done. That's why this law is particularly onerous! The federal government is forcing you to buy something you don't want to buy so it can regulate what you buy, how much you pay, and what you get for your money.
And that, my friends, is the crux of the matter the Supreme Court is hearing this week: Can the federal government force us to buy anything it wants us to buy even if we don't want to?