October 23, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Health care vs. the Constitution

My friend and colleague Matthew Poteat wrote a letter that was published in the News Leader today, asserting that the Democrats' proposed health care program would be constitutional. He made some good points, but I felt compelled to respond with a comment:

While there are some precedents, such as the ones cited, for a broad interpretation of the Constitution that might justify a government-run health care program of limited scope, constitutionality is by no means a settled question. In the Helvering decision (1937) two justices switched sides because FDR threatened to "pack" the Supreme Court with sympathetic judges. Not exactly the finest hour for jurisprudence. The general thrust of the constitution is indisputably to LIMIT government power, and whenever a broad new power is asserted, such as the income tax, a constitutional amendment is required. A universal, mandatory health care program such as Congress is considering would fundamentally and permanently alter the relation between U.S. citizens and their government. If Congress passes an amendment authorizing such a program, and at least 38 states ratify it, fine. If not, it would be widely seen as a usurpation bordering on tyranny, rendering freedom almost meaningless.

A number of other people commented as well; quite a "hot-button" topic.

Coincidentally, an editorial in yesterday's Investors Business Daily decried the Democrats for "shredding" the Constitution. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer cited the "general Welfare" provision of Article 1, Section 8 as a justification to mandate universal insurance. That is indeed quite a stretch. Hat tip to Stacey Morris.

So why would Democrats take such a far-out position on constitutional law? Probably because they don't think they could get the necessary two-thirds of both houses to pass such an amendment to the Constitution, and even if they did, it would be a steep uphill battle to get the necessary three-fourths (38) of the states to ratify it. And anyway, how many people really care about the Constitution any more? That is the sobering theme covered by Thomas Woods and Kevin Gutzman in their book, Who Killed the Constitution?

Brooks on radio jocks

In other recent punditry, New York Times columnist David Brooks called attention to the Republican leadership's mistaken attention paid to polemical talk radio hosts Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity. He concludes, "The party is losing because it has adopted a radio entertainer's niche-building strategy, while abandoning the politician's coalition-building strategy." Probably so. Hat tip to Connie.

Just yesterday I was disgusted when Rush started ranting about the government's pay cuts of the executives of firms that were bailed out under TARP last year, as though such measures constituted a socialist takeover of the private sector. He then suggested, Why not cut the pay of members of Congress by 90%? So, I turned him off. I frown on populist rhetoric, but those executives of AIG, Bank of America, CitiGroup, GM, and Chrysler have to be held accountable for the near collapse of the free market system which they helped bring about.