ObamaCare ruling: Silver lining or whistling past the graveyard?
George Will has a column out today declaring that conservatism won “a substantial victory” yesterday:
Conservatives distraught about the survival of the individual mandate are missing the considerable consolation prize they won when the Supreme Court rejected a constitutional rationale for the mandate — Congress’s rationale — that was pregnant with rampant statism.
The case challenged the court to fashion a judicially administrable principle that limits Congress’s power to act on the mere pretense of regulating interstate commerce. At least Roberts got the court to embrace emphatic language rejecting the Commerce Clause rationale for penalizing the inactivity of not buying insurance:
“The power to regulate commerce presupposes the existence of commercial activity to be regulated. . . . The individual mandate, however, does not regulate existing commercial activity. It instead compels individuals to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, on the ground that their failure to do so affects interstate commerce. Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority. . . . Allowing Congress to justify federal regulation by pointing to the effect of inaction on commerce would bring countless decisions an individual could potentially make within the scope of federal regulation, and — under the government’s theory — empower Congress to make those decisions for him.”
If the mandate had been upheld under the Commerce Clause, the Supreme Court would have decisively construed this clause so permissively as to give Congress an essentially unlimited police power — the power to mandate, proscribe and regulate behavior for whatever Congress deems a public benefit. Instead, the court rejected the Obama administration’s Commerce Clause doctrine. The court remains clearly committed to this previous holding: “Under our written Constitution . . . the limitation of congressional authority is not solely a matter of legislative grace.”
The court held that the mandate is constitutional only because Congress could have identified its enforcement penalty as a tax. The court thereby guaranteed that the argument ignited by the mandate will continue as the principal fault line in our polity.
I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling it. What part of the “tax” isn’t “pregnant with rampant statism”? Why did John Roberts feel compelled to save the mandate by helping the administration identify it as a tax?
And more importantly, since when did taxation go from simply being a means for funding the functions of government to a means of incentivizing/controlling behavior? To me that’s what approving the mandate as a tax has sanctioned. We make fun of the nannies who want to control what we do, eat, say, etc. This precedent just sanctioned a method of doing so. It says it is okay to coerce desired behavior through taxation.
Perhaps, as Will opines, it will limit the Commerce clause which is already insanely overstretched in application. Maybe it finally does draw a much brighter line around the clause, at least marginally.
However, the downside is worse than any upside. The ruling essentially sanctioned the state’s requirement to purchase health insurance and gave it the okay to “tax” those who don’t comply. I’m sorry, you may want to play the word game with them and call it a tax, but it is clearly identifiable to me as a penalty.
That’s just wrong.
One of the more interesting ironies is that within the same ruling the Court found that the Federal government was being coercive toward the states by requiring they comply with the new Medicaid mandates or lose their current Medicaid funding.
How is that anymore coercive than the “tax” required to be paid if an individual decides not to purchase health care insurance?
Taxation as a mechanism of control and/or enforcement of desired behavior is as coercive as the part on Medicaid which was struck down by the court. At least in my opinion.
There may indeed be a silver lining in the ruling as Will outlines. But a “substantial victory”? It sounds like David Axlerod trying to spin the Wisconsin results as a huge win for Obama and trouble for Romney, doesn’t it? If this was a “substantial victory”, then so was Pearl Harbor.