The crucial chore of eliminating Obamacare, and preserving our rights as free men and women, is up to the people now. In a better world the Constitution would protect us from such outrageous expansions of governmental power, but not in this one. Not after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday that the deceptively named Affordable Care Act, better known to the public as Obamacare, is constitutional.
The majority decision for the surprise ruling argues that the act’s “individual mandate” — the requirement that citizens purchase government-approved health insurance or pay a fine — is tantamount to a tax, and is therefore valid because the Constitution grants government the power of taxation. Some conservatives have concluded that the court has given hope for future decisions limiting government power by offering such a circuitous rationale, rather than allowing the law to stand based on a more permissive interpretation of the commerce clause, and one can hope they are right, but future decisions that allow such expansions of government authority on the basis of the power to tax will still be allowing unrestricted government. Nor does the argument change the fact that the immediate consequence of the decision is that the government is allowed to restrict the rights of its citizens in ways that are certain to make the health care system more expensive and less effective.
Defining the individual mandate as a tax does offer one consolation, though, as it should offer much help in the political effort to repeal the disastrous the health care reform law. Obama won election on an oft-repeated promise that no one making less than $250,000 a year would see any new taxes or tax increases, and had famously argued with a television interviewer that the individual mandate did not violate his pledge because it is not a tax, but he now has to run for re-election with his name attached to an historically large tax increase that falls mostly on the middle class or concede that the bill is only constitutional by virtue of a fallacious argument.
The ruling also pushes Obama’s consistently unpopular signature achievement back into the political debate, with a timely reminder of its many faults. Anger toward the bill was a major reason that the Democrats suffered huge losses in the 2010 mid-term elections, and since that time the Congressional Budget Office has found it to be vastly more expensive than previously supposed, its CLASS program for assisted living has been scrapped because of the very reasons its critics had predicted, and insurance costs have steadily risen, so the issue could prove even more effective this time around.
While it would have been a good thing for the Court to establish a firm legal principle that the government cannot compel Americans to purchase products or services against their will, establishing the same rule at the ballot box might be even more effective. The judgment of the people has always settled issues more permanently than the opinions of five Justices, as the ongoing battles over the 39-year-old Roe v. Wade decision demonstrates, and it is possible that it might settle this one correctly.
– Bud Norman