July 24, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER
Roll Call

Smith: Obama Administration Makes Unprecedented Power Grab

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Our country’s founders limited the scope and power of the federal government for a reason. They feared centralized power would lead to the same type of tyranny from which they had just won independence.

And so the idea of a limited federal government with the vast majority of power in the hands of the people laid the foundation for our nation. Specific powers that belong to the federal government were outlined in the Constitution, and the states were given any remaining authority.

Today, President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul is our founders’ fears realized — a federal government forcing the American people to engage in activity against their will. Far from the original intent of our founders, the health care law is both unprecedented and unconstitutional. If allowed to stand, it will shift the balance of power from the people to the federal government.

The individual mandate, at the root of the president’s health care law, requires all Americans to purchase health insurance from a private company. It does not matter whether they want health insurance. Under this law, Americans must either obtain insurance or pay a penalty.

Twenty-seven states are challenging the constitutionality of the health care law. Two federal district court judges have ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, and two have determined that it is not.

The Commerce Clause of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate economic activity, which includes everything from growing wheat to managing a restaurant to running a Fortune 500 company. But the health care law wrongly assumes that Congress can also regulate economic inactivity.

There is a difference between regulating economic activity that is ongoing and forcing Americans to engage in an economic activity against their will, in this case purchasing health insurance. Part of a free society means the freedom to choose not to do something. Never in America’s history has Congress required people to purchase a good or service simply because they live in the United States — until now.

The Obama administration maintains that an individual mandate requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance is necessary under the new law because if Americans do not purchase insurance, the cost of health care could be shifted to the government. But where does this argument end?

Under this interpretation of the Commerce Clause, Congress could force Americans to buy anything as a means of furthering whatever the federal government desires.

If the housing sector were struggling, Congress could force renters to purchase a home. If the auto industry were on the verge of collapse, Congress could force individuals who take public transportation to purchase a car. Or, if falling citrus prices drove farmers into bankruptcy, Congress could force consumers to purchase oranges.

There is no end to the number of commercial transactions Americans could be forced into if the Commerce Clause were as broad as the Obama administration argues.

Neither the Constitution nor the Supreme Court have ever given Congress that authority. But under the administration’s reasoning, as long as Congress decides that the ends justify the means, Americans could be forced to purchase any good or service. This is a dangerous precedent to set for future administrations and flies in the face of our founders’ intent.

Even the Obama administration recognizes that its legal justification for the individual mandate is shaky. That’s why a new argument has been added to explain the authority for the mandate — taxation.

During the debate over Obamacare, the administration continually told the public that the bill would not impose a tax on the American people. Even the president himself stated, the mandate is “absolutely not a tax” and “nobody considers [it] a tax increase.”

But to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department now argues that the individual mandate is, in fact, a tax. Whether you call this political doublespeak or just plain hypocrisy, it is clear that the Obama administration will do and say anything to impose its will on the American people.

Unfortunately, these constitutional concerns could have been addressed before the law was passed. A now-infamous statement by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.” — clearly describes the closed-door process by which this bill was forced on the American people.

The Democratic majority ran roughshod over the democratic process. Now state governments are struggling with the strain of Obamacare in their budgets and employers are slowing job creation as they fear more mandates from Washington, D.C.

The American people want more freedom, not a nanny state. They want to maintain the principles our founders put in place. The Supreme Court should reject the administration’s power play and uphold the constitutional limits on the federal government’s role in our daily lives.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

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