|SITREP - June 29, 2012|
Obviously, it was a historic week in Washington. I will try to keep this short, but I want to let you know where I stand on this healthcare decision by the Supreme Court. My reaction to this was a bit different than a lot of what you have probably heard in the news so far, so please bear with me for a minute…
First, the United States Supreme Court found that the individual mandate included in the President’s healthcare law, could survive only under Congress’ constitutional authority to levy taxes.
In short, the Court found that, in no uncertain terms, the federal government does not have the authority to force you to buy health insurance. Or put another way, the government cannot legally enact legislation requiring you to purchase something and then penalize you for failing to do what the law instructed. Doing that would be unconstitutional. In the very same decision, however, the Court found that although they couldn’t make a requirement and “penalize” you for failing meet it, they could make a requirement and tax you for not meeting it. Call me crazy, but I don’t see a great deal of difference between those two things: a fine and a punitive tax.
In my opinion, this decision was as legally flawed as it is dangerous for the future. The court has just signed off on a vast new authority that the federal government was not known to have had before – the power to compel you to buy something. In his own majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts explained (page 39 of the decision) that if the federal government decides that it is in the national interest to require every homeowner in America to purchase energy efficient windows, the government cannot not “force” you to do it with the threat of a fine, but they can compel you to buy new windows or face a tax for the same amount of money. Again, what is the difference?
I have a great deal of respect for the institution of the Supreme Court. Our Founders set it up for a reason – and it was a good reason. But in this case, I think they have made a dangerous mistake. The power to compel Americans to do something has never been an authority that resided with the federal government, and in my opinion, in a free country, it never should be.
For members of Congress or future occupants of the White House who believe, in no uncertain terms, that they know better than you do about what decisions you should make, this is a cause for celebration. They now know for certain that they have the legal authority to make those decisions for you. I don’t believe, and I know most Americans don’t believe, that the federal government should have that power. After all, where does it end? The only real limit on that authority is the practical ability of Congress to enact a punitive tax. We all know it’s possible… it just happened here.
Say for instance, policymakers are facing a disastrous housing crisis where financially-able buyers are sitting on the sidelines because they think home prices will keep dropping. What is to stop the federal government from implementing a tax compelling certain individuals to buy a house or face a fine? Nothing but politics. Car industry facing a crisis? What is to stop the government from taxing anybody who doesn’t buy a new car by the deadline they just set? Nothing.
That’s not something I will ever feel comfortable with. Regardless of how you feel about the President’s attempt at healthcare reform, this is something that all Americans should carefully consider. Once the government gets the go-ahead from the Supreme Court, granting Congress or the president new powers, that is very hard to undo. In short, even if the President’s healthcare law is repealed, the precedent will still be there. The power will still be there.
I would really appreciate hearing your feedback on this. It may be too late to stop it now (at least not without amending the Constitution), but I think it is something that we need to do some serious soul-searching about. The media is going to continue to focus on the political ramifications of the decision, but that misses the point entirely. Elections come and go, but principles and precedents last forever. We better make sure we get this one right.