The debate over health care constantly takes on some new twists, as it is difficult to debate a bill that hasn’t yet reached its final form. But, because there are amendments being proposed daily, each new idea is scrutinized for its constitutionality. Questions arise such as:
• Does Federal Government have the power to make any decisions about health care?
• Is health care a constitutional right?
• Can a “Health Choices Commissioner” have any constitutional powers?
• Can illegal immigrants be denied any service offered to “everyone”?
• Can our government require anyone to purchase anything?
It seems clearer by the day that the Supreme Court will have to make some tough decisions about whatever plan is finally settled upon, if that day ever comes.
We’ll examine just one, the individual purchase mandate which would require every American to have health insurance, if not through an employer then by individual purchase. This requirement has not come up so much because of a desire to provide for the health and welfare of the young who opt out or the old who have limited income, but out of the need to help pay for the any final program. If it is not deficit neutral, President Obama has promised not to sign it. (And, of course, he always keeps his promises.)
But can Congress require every American to buy health insurance? NO. The Constitution assigns only limited, enumerated powers to Congress and none, including the power to regulate interstate commerce or to impose taxes, would support a federal mandate requiring anyone who is otherwise without health insurance to buy it.
The specific powers of Congress are:
• To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises to pay debt and to provide for the common defense and general Welfare (all taxes to be uniform throughout the United States)
• To borrow money
• To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, among the States, and with Indian Tribes
• To establish uniform rules of Naturalization and Bankruptcies
• To coin and regulate the value of money, and fix the standard of Weights and Measures
• To punish counterfeiting of securities and money
• To establish post offices and post roads
• To protect science and arts with limited copyrights and patents,
• To establish courts inferior to the Supreme Court
• To define and punish piracy and offenses against the Law of Nations
• To declare War, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules about captures on land and water
• To raise and support armies, but no appropriation for that shall be for a term longer than two years
• To provide, train and maintain an army, navy, and militia, and the appointment of officers
• To establish a district to serve as the seat of the federal government (Washington, D.C.)
• To make all laws needed to execute these powers
• To admit new states into the Union if the states agree
• To rule and regulate Territories of the United States
• To tax incomes
Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Progressives of his time tried to establish “human rights” as “constitutional rights,” but they have failed to do so because they are clearly not part of the intentions of the founding fathers. It is not that the founding fathers didn’t believe in health and education, it is that they believed that ALL POWERS NOT LISTED BELONGED TO THE STATES.
Eleanor Roosevelt was successful in getting the UN to adopt a document of “human rights.” But, until the hearts of people are accepting of differences and greed and/or bigotry die, to provide human rights will always be a struggle on a national or international scale. It must start at home with our own charitable actions. We cannot legislate “humanness” or “righteousness.”