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Reform vs. the Constitution

Christie Pesavento | Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Now that the Democrats have managed to wheedle, bribe, cajole, threaten and otherwise cram their health care package through Congress and into the law books, popular resistance and political consequences be damned, it may seem like the vicious battle has finally reached a conclusion.

But as defenders of liberty across the country have declared, the war is far from over. Already, over 30 states have taken steps to challenge various aspects of the law, the most controversial of which is the individual mandate that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance. Such a mandate, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is unprecedented in the history of our nation, and there is reason to believe that it is patently unconstitutional.

Of course, anyone who is determined enough to risk political suicide to pass a piece of legislation is not going to let something as trivial as the Constitution stand in his or her way.

Case in point: last fall, when a reporter asked Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi about what part of the Constitution gives Congress the authority the mandate the purchase of health insurance, the speaker responded with an incredulous, “Are you serious? Are you serious?” She then promptly ignored the question by turning to another reporter.

Why yes, Madam Speaker, the possibility that a proposed piece of legislation is unconstitutional is a serious question to most Americans. Much more serious, believe it or not, than a question the president chose to answer last year about what has most “enchanted” him about the office.

Unfortunately, Pelosi is not the only one who needs to brush up on her knowledge of the Constitution. Back in December, Senator Kent Conrad (D – N.D.) admitted he could not specify where in the Constitution Congress is granted the authority for an individual mandate.

“You know, I’m not a lawyer,” Conrad said, “so, I’m not an expert on the constitutional issue. That’s not my committee’s jurisdiction. So, I know that attorneys who have looked at it believe that it’s fully constitutional. But I’m not, I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t, I can’t pass judgment on that based on my own legal analysis.”

Well, excuse us voters for thinking that a sitting senator would consult the Constitution before setting out to pass a reform package with such far-reaching consequences. Perhaps we should pose the question, as Conrad suggests, to someone on the Judiciary Committee. And why not start with House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D – Mich.)?

“Under several clauses, the good and welfare clause and a couple others. All the scholars, the constitutional scholars that I know — I’m chairman of the Judiciary committee, as you know — they all say that there’s nothing unconstitutional in this bill and if there were, I would have tried to correct it if I thought there were.”

Yes, you read that correctly. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee just referred to a non-existent constitutional clause to defend a piece of legislation.

The fact that a senator, the House Judiciary chairman, and the speaker of the house care so little about where their authority comes from should be cause for widespread alarm among the population. The very document upon which our entire system of government was founded, the document that has preserved our rights and freedoms for well over two centuries, the document that these people swore to “support and defend … against all enemies” and to “bear true faith and allegiance,” has become irrelevant in their eyes.

To Americans who still see the Constitution as meaningful, they understand that the debate over this healthcare package is not really about health care at all. Rather, like the soon-to-be insolvent entitlement programs that exist today, it is a manifestation of the federal government seeking to exert more control over the people by convincing them to sacrifice liberty to gain some security from social ills, and a tenuous security at that. Friedrich Hayek understood the dangers inherent to this exchange when he declared, “If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.”

There are alternate ways of solving the problems confronting the health care and insurance industries, solutions that do not involve substantial government meddling or adding to the nation’s crushing debt while crippling our economic recovery. Curbing frivolous lawsuits that encourage costly defensive medicine, allowing individuals to purchase insurance across state lines, expanding and reforming high-risk pools and reinsurance programs to guarantee access to affordable health care even for those who have preexisting conditions, all of these proposals fall into this category.

If the history of the American Experiment tells us anything, it is that only when the powers of government are limited can society truly flourish, economically or otherwise. How else can one explain how a lowly British colony emerged as the greatest economic and military superpower the world has ever known in, as far as human history is concerned, the blink of an eye? Certainly not by pointing to any coercive efforts by the government. We have the wisdom and foresight of the founders to thank for framing the government in such a way that it allowed us to reach a standard of living that is unrivaled by any prior generation. Eschewing this lesson by ignoring the constitutional restraints on government authority is akin to tearing up the Declaration of Independence and resubmitting ourselves to monarchical rule.

Of course, the liberals in Congress probably wouldn’t mind.

Christie Pesavento is a senior who is majoring in political science and sociology. She can be reached at cpesaven@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.