Commentary: Weak Case for Individual Mandate Highlighted by HB1474 Hearing
Last week at the State Capitol, Rep. Kirk Talbot’s HB1474 received a brief hearing in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. While efforts to stall hearing the bill resulted in it being holed up in the back of the agenda, the truncated hearing it received brought to light several points which beg to be addressed.
Most of the dialogue was between Rep. Talbot and Sen. Karen Carter Peterson. Peterson attempted to trap Rep. Talbot into admitting that he had betrayed his conservative principles of personal responsibility by sponsoring a bill which, in effect, would not mandate people to “take responsibility” for themselves by purchasing health insurance. Overlooking the sophistry of her argument, and the fact that it was not remotely pertinent to the question of Constitutionality at hand, her argument is fallacious on a philosophical foundation.
She wanted to undermine his ideological position yet, instead, highlighted this conservative precept: How can an individual exercise his/her responsibility when they are deprived of that choice altogether? Moreover, since when is the act of purchasing health insurance an unequivocal act of “responsibility?” Depriving citizens of their Constitutional right to choose hardly equates to civic responsibility. To ensure more “responsibility,” what is stopping the government from mandating the purchase of hybird cars or outlawing cigarettes? Talbot’s bill is a truly responsible measure because it seeks to protect our rights as citizens to make choices for ourselves about our own health and welfare.
Furthermore, Sen. Peterson’s oratorical skills far surpass her her Constitutional knowledge. At times, she both alluded to health care as a Constitutional right to citizens afforded at birth, and stated that Federal laws are invariably legally superior to state laws. A brief consultation of the Constitution quickly dispels the first notion, and legal precedent contradicts her second point, as well. Though the idea of Federalism on which our nation is grounded has been ravaged in last 150 years by spurious judicial decisions, Gonzalez v. Oregon (2006) fortunately reaffirmed that states do retain a degree of autonomy. That decision reestablished that state laws may operate independently of Federal regulation and safeguards against unnecessary preemption by Congress, especially in cases of health care choices.
On that note of Constitutional validity, the Commerce clause gives Congress the right to regulate commerce among the states, but on two points in particular is the individual mandate incompatible with this. One, Congress is meddling in intrastate affairs, which as explicated by Chief Justice John Marshall in Gibbons v. Ogden (1829), is not a power delegated to Congress. Rather, it is “restricted to that commerce which concerns more states than one.” Secondly, and of equal importance, is that for the first time, Congress is regulating a non-activity, a non-purchase of a product. There is no clear legal precedent for Congress forcing citizens to purchase a product such as health insurance. In presenting her argument, Peterson demonstrated the weakness of the Left’s case for the individual mandate, strong on notions of ideology but bereft of Constitutional support.