Tag: Obamacare

ObamaCare Challenges Gain Steam

Today’s hearing in Pensacola built on Monday’s ruling out of Richmond: Judge Roger Vinson is likely to hold the individual mandate unconstitutional. And such a decision would be the most significant development possible at the district court level because the Florida case involved 20 states, with more joining the lawsuit when new governors and attorneys general assume office in January. It is unprecedented for this number of states – again, soon to be a majority – to sue the federal government and it shows the singular and extreme nature of the government’s assertion of raw power here.

As Judge Vinson said during the hearing, the Supreme Court has held that the outer bounds of Congress’s regulatory power under the Commerce Clause (as exercised via the Necessary and Proper Clause) is activity that has a substantial effect in interstate commerce. If the government were to prevail under its theory that Congress can regulate any decision with economic ramifications – as two district courts have unfortunately held – then there is no principled limit on federal power. At that point, we might as well throw the Constitution out the window and admit that Congress is the judge of its own authority.

Finally, while Judge Vinson was more skeptical of the Medicaid-related claim that is unique to the Florida lawsuit, it is similarly impossible to draw limits to federal power if we allow Congress to impose a Hobson’s Choice on states of either withdrawing from Medicaid or implementing budget-crippling regulations. At a certain point the strings that Congress attaches to federal funding become coercive – particularly when the new shape of a government program (here, Medicaid) radically transforms the compact states originally joined and have inextricably relied on.

‘Politicians’ Top 10 Promises Gone Wrong’

That’s the title of an upcoming FOX News Channel feature program with John Stossel, in which Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz and Director of Health Policy Studies Michael F. Cannon weigh in on some of the hidden, unforeseen, and unintended consequences of the attempts to deliver on promises our politicians make.

Politicians promised that:

  1. Cash for Clunkers would save the auto industry.
  2. Increasing the minimum wage would be good for the working poor.
  3. Title IX would end gender-based discrimination in college sports.
  4. Mega-construction projects like stadiums, arenas, and conference centers would create jobs.
  5. Changing the tax code would save small farmers and the environment.
  6. Credit card reform would save us from banking fees.
  7. Reforming the health care system would give us more affordable and more comprehensive care.
  8. Ethanol would reduce our dependence on foreign oil and save the environment.
  9. Home ownership for all would be good for America.

And the #1 promise politicians made that went awry?

Tune in to FOX News Channel this Friday, December 17, 2010 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern to find out. Use the #10Promises hashtag on Twitter during the program to follow the conversation.

Kindly note that while John Stossel’s programs normally air on the FOX Business Network, this feature program will appear on the FOX News Channel.

Yes, Madam Speaker, We’re Serious

During the initial legislative debate over ObamaCare, a reporter asked (now-outgoing) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) whether the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to compel Americans to purchase health insurance. Pelosi responded, “Are you serious? Are you serious?

Today, a federal court answered Ms. Pelosi’s question when it declared ObamaCare’s individual mandate unconstitutional.

Here is Pelosi’s statement responding to today’s court ruling in Cuccinelli v. Sebelius:

Pelosi Statement on Affordable Care Act Ruling in Virginia District Court

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ – Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued the following statement today after a District Court judge in Virginia ruled one provision of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The judge refused to freeze implementation of the law during the appeals process, meaning Americans already benefitting from health insurance reform – or set to benefit soon – will not be affected:

“Today’s court ruling stands in stark contrast to 14 similar challenges to the Affordable Care Act – in two, federal district judges strongly upheld the law; in the other 12, the challenges have been dismissed.

“Since its enactment, health insurance reform has delivered concrete benefits to millions of Americans. Among provisions already benefitting the American people, it has offered small businesses a tax break to cover their workers, allowed young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, and provided assistance to seniors struggling to pay prescription drug costs. These changes are good for our middle class, and will not be impacted by this court’s decision to overturn a single provision of the law.

“There have been and will continue to be a wide range of attempts to weaken this law. But as in previous court rulings across the country, I am confident that the Affordable Care Act will ultimately be sustained and will keep benefitting our middle class, our families, and our businesses, indeed every American. In Congress, we will stand firm against attempts to roll back the law, including the Patient’s Bill of Rights and the critical consumer protections enacted by health insurance reform.”

SOURCE Office of the Speaker of the House

Note that Pelosi does not address the constitutional issue.

Yes, Virginia, There Are Limits on Federal Power

Yes, Virginia, there are limits on federal power.

Today is a good day for liberty.  And a bad day for those who say that Congress is the arbiter of Congress’s powers.  By striking down the individual mandate, Judge Hudson vindicated the idea that ours is a government of delegated and enumerated – and thus limited – powers.  Even if the Supreme Court has broadened over the years the scope of Congress’s authority to legislate under the guise of regulating interstate commerce or to tax for the general welfare, “the constraining principles articulated in this line of cases… remains viable and applicable to the immediate dispute.”

In short, we have come far from the days when pundits dismissed the lawsuits challenging the new health care law as frivolous political gimmicks. This is just one district court – whose opinion is not binding on the judges who will now consider the government’s appeal – but we can now see the day where this unprecedented assertion of federal power is definitively rejected as fundamentally contrary to our constitutional order.

As Judge Hudson said, “Despite the laudable intentions of Congress in enacting a comprehensive and transformative health care regime, the legislative process must still operate within constitutional bounds.  Salutatory goals and creative drafting have never been sufficient to offset an absence of enumerated powers.”

Federal Court Declares ObamaCare’s Individual Mandate Unconstitutional

ObamaCare has always hung by an absurdity.  ObamaCare supporters claim that the Constitution’s words “Congress shall have the Power…To regulate Commerce…among the several States” somehow give Congress the power to compel Americans to engage in commerce.  This ruling exposes that absurdity, and exposes as desperate political spin the Obama administration’s claims that these lawsuits are frivolous.

This ruling’s shortcoming is that it did not overturn the entire law.  Anyone familiar with ObamaCare knows that Congress would not have approved any of its major provisions absent the individual mandate.  The compulsion contained in the individual mandate was the main reason that most Democrats voted in favor of the law.  Yet the law still passed Congress by the narrowest of all margins – by one vote, in the dead of night, on Christmas Eve – and required Herculean legislative maneuvering to overcome nine months of solid public opposition.  The fact that Congress did not provide for a “severability clause” indicates that lawmakers viewed the law as one measure.

Despite that shortcoming, this ruling threatens not just the individual mandate, but the entire edifice of ObamaCare.  The centerpiece of ObamaCare is a three-legged stool, comprised of the individual mandate, the government price controls that compress health insurance premiums, and the massive new subsidies to help Americans comply with the mandate.  Knock out any of those three legs, and whole endeavor falls.

Moreover, the individual mandate is not the law’s only unconstitutional provision.

These lawsuits and the continuing legislative debate over ObamaCare are about more than health care.  They are about whether the United States has a government of specifically enumerated powers, or whether the Constitution grants the federal government the power to do whatever the politicians please, subject only to a few specifically enumerated restraints.  This ruling has pulled America back from that precipice.

Is Congress Above the Law?

The first item on this election campaign’s Contract with America was that, if elected (as they have been), the House Republicans would require that all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply to Congress.  We’ll see if that and the other promised reforms materialize, but it does raise yet another issue in the context of Obamacare.

As my colleague Michael Cannon pointed out to me, the new health care law kicks congressmen out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.  (The current FEHB is no different from the health coverage provided by any private employer -– federal employees choose from a series of private plan options (none of which is run by the government), and receive a subsidy from the federal government acting in its role as an employer.)

My first reaction to hearing this was:  Good – if the rest of us lose our health care freedom, so should those who forced this new atrocity on us.  But apparently this result was not intended, so the Obama administration has decided to ignore that part of the law.

No joke.  Here is the Congressional Research Service report on the provisions that oust members of Congress from their health insurance.  And here is the letter in which an Obama appointee announces that the administration will ignore the law.  These two articles also provide important information.

Now, assuming that something constitutionally problematic is going on here, what can anyone do about it?  To put it in legal terms, who has standing to sue for this apparent constitutional violation?  It’s a tough row to hoe – taxpayers cannot bring suit based on generalized grievances – but off the top of my head, I can think of two possibilities: (1) members of Congress suing the president or the Department of Health and Human Services for essentially passing new law and therefore infringing on congressional prerogatives (thereby violating the separation of powers); or (2) an insurance broker or carrier who would otherwise be signing up new clients.

And there are two additional related questions:

1. Why did Congress expand Medicaid while refusing to participate in it themselves?  Obamacare expanded Medicaid to an estimated 18 million new Americans, none of whom will have a choice of private plans, instead being dumped into Medicaid, a program notorious for access problems (and which in Arizona now doesn’t cover organ transplants).  Yet all Senate Democrats voted against an amendment enrolling members of Congress in the new Medicaid program (all Republicans voted for it, except one who was absent).

2. Will members of Congress use their own salaries to pay any fines assessed because their employees have “unaffordable” health coverage?  Obamacare includes a $2,000 per worker penalty for any employer that does not provide “affordable” coverage, beginning in 2014.  Many junior staffers have incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($43,320 for a single person, or $88,200 for a family of four), and thus could be subject to the new statutory test of whether their health insurance options are “affordable.”  While it’s unclear how this particular provision will be implemented for Hill staff – due to the “significant unintended consequences” of sloppy drafting – it’s entirely possible that member offices could be assessed a $2,000 penalty for every worker needing insurance subsidies because they have no “affordable” alternative.  If that scenario happens, will the members of Congress who voted for the law pay the penalty out of their own salaries or will they rely on taxpayer funds to finance an obligation they imposed on themselves?

How to Tell When ObamaCare Supporters Are Nervous

Supporters have gone to great lengths to make ObamaCare appear popular or to make repeal seem impossible.  But this op-ed by my friend Jonathan Cohn made my jaw drop.

First, Cohn notes that the Senate recently voted down two efforts to repeal one of ObamaCare’s more unpopular provisions: the “1099 reporting tax,” which will place an enormous burden on small businesses.  ”Neither provision,” Cohn obliquely reports, “got enough votes to pass.”  He concludes:

Critics of health care reform [sic] this week thought they would get their first win in the campaign to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Instead they got a lesson in just how politically challenging a wholesale repeal might be.

If opponents can’t even repeal the unpopular parts of ObamaCare, how can they repeal the whole thing?

Cohn neglects to mention a few important details.  The reason neither amendment received “enough votes” is because, due to procedural considerations, each would have needed a 2/3 majority to pass – i.e., 67 votes.  The Republican amendment actually received 61 votes.  (The Democratic amendment received only 44 votes.)  Reading Cohn’s account, though, you might think – and Cohn might think, or just want you to think – that both failed because they lacked majority support.  In fact, the Republican amendment received a filibuster-proof majority.  Even though it included $19 billion of spending cuts.  And in a chamber with only 41 Republicans.  (Another six arrive next month.)  And the mere fact that Democrats offered an amendment to repeal part of ObamaCare is notable in itself.  Cohn’s spin aside, the skirmish over the 1099 reporting tax shows that Democrats are divided and ObamaCare supporters are on the run.

Second, Cohn writes, “advocates of repeal have one extra liability that the law’s architects did not – a lack of majority support even before the wrangling begins.”  As evidence, he cites a single Gallup  poll from July 2009 that found 50 percent of the public supported “comprehensive health care reform.”  Oy, where to begin.  First, by Cohn’s own single-poll standard, he is just flat wrong.  Advocates of repeal can point to the latest Rasmussen poll, which shows that 58 percent of adults support wholesale repeal.  (Polls have clocked support for repeal as high as 61 percent.)  Second, support for “comprehensive health care reform” is not the same thing as support for ObamaCare.  If Gallup were to ask Cato employees whether they support comprehensive health care reform, my guess is that at least 50 percent would answer yes.  (Presumably, Cohn would then write an oped titled, “Even Libertarians Support ObamaCare!”)  Advocates of repeal have something else going for them, too: 17 months of consistent public opposition to ObamaCare.

No one is saying that getting repeal through the Senate is likely in the next two years.  But the fact that supporters have to shade the truth like this suggests they are nervous.