Senate Constitutional Scholarship

I Know It’s in There Somewhere

At a press conference this week, Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas was caught offguard with an impertinent question: “What part of the Constitution do you think gives Congress the authority to mandate that individuals have to purchase health insurance?”

Her answer was a model of constitutional scholarship: : “Well, I just think the Constitution charges Congress with the health and well-being of the people.”

Sounds definitive, right?

I just happen to have a copy of the Constitution at hand. Let me check it out. Let’s see, there’s Article One, which details the powers of the legislative branch. Let me look . . . no, I don’t see the words “health” “insurance,” or anything similar in there.

Maybe Article Two? It’s about the executive branch. Perhaps the president has the authority to impose this by himself. Looking . . . looking . . . nope, nothing there.

Article Three talks about the federal judiciary. Since they seem to legislate for everything nowadays, the power might be found in that section. It’s actually a pretty short article. Nada again.

The relationship between the federal and state government is the focus of Article Four. Any clues there? Hmmm . . . came up empty once more.

Article Five deals with amendments. I wonder if we added one during the years that provides the authority to legislate on healthcare or mandates that people purchase it? Searching . . . free exercise of religion . . . abolition of slavery . . . women have the right to vote . . . income tax . . . direct election of senators . . . struck out again.

Article Six says the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. That would be nice. Let’s return to that.

By the way, in my search for amendments, I did find this one: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” I think that means if there is no express authority given to the federal government, it doesn’t have that authority.

Sen. Landrieu: What, Me Worry?

Sen. Landrieu: What, Me Worry?

Incidentally, there was another senator at the press conference who also answered the question. Her name is Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, famous for shifting her vote to allow the healthcare debate to begin in exchange for $300 million for her home state. Never let it be said that a senator’s vote comes cheaply.

When asked the question about the constitutionality of mandating that people buy health insurance, she responded:

Well, we’re very lucky as members of the Senate to have constitutional lawyers on our staff, so I’ll let them answer that. But what I will say is that most certainly it is within Congress’ jurisdiction to come up with a way to have a health insurance funded with shared responsibility, is the way I like to, you know—government has a responsibility, individuals have a responsibility, and business has a responsibility.

The first part of her answer sure makes me feel better. We don’t have to worry because constitutional lawyers will tell us if it’s okay. Well, where were they educated? Do they believe in original intent? I thought it was part of a legislator’s job to know the fundamental law under which he/she operates. Landrieu is telling us that she doesn’t have to think about that; she lets other people do the thinking for her.

And then there’s the rest of her answer, which ought to win some kind of an award for vagueness.

This posting has concentrated on the constitutional issue. There’s also the matter of whether this Frankenstein-type creation could even conceivably work.

It’s a disaster—both constitutionally and practically.