Hello – is there anybody out there who still believes our leaders in Washington care about what the Constitution of the United States says? Or what it was intended to mean? Or even that it exists? If there actually is anybody out there who still believes this, recent discussions on Capitol Hill about proposed federal legislation should dispel such thought from the minds of even the most die-hard optimists.
Legislation dealing with the delivery and cost of health care in the United States is nearing votes in both houses of the Congress. Although differing significantly in their details, the primary proposals in both the House and the Senate establish clearly it will be the heavy hand of the federal government, not patients and their doctors, who will be controlling health care decision-making in the decades to come.
With such a massively expensive and substantively far-reaching piece of legislation being debated at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, one would hope that our “leaders” in Washington, DC might at least pretend to articulate a constitutional justification. It wouldn’t be that hard, considering the precedents available at least since the 1930s for finding a justification for even the most intrusive government programs and regulations hiding somewhere in that magnificent document. Even were the infamous “commerce clause” deemed not sufficient to provide a justification for a government program, the always popular “general welfare clause” could be dragged out to provide constitutional cover.
In this age of constitutional ignorance, however, Nanny State proponents don’t even bother pretending to provide a constitutional underpinning for whatever government–based and taxpayer-funded program they advocate. HR 3962, the massive “Affordable Health Care for America Act of 2009,” is almost 2,000 pages long and would spend more than 1.2 trillion taxpayer dollars, but contains nary a reference to the Constitution; no wave of the hand to “general welfare” or even a passing homage to the “commerce clause.”
In fact, when asked recently by a reporter if the health care bill was “constitutional,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded disdainfully, “Are you serious? Are you serious?” Obviously, she never answered the question.
The reason Pelosi never answered the question about the constitutional foundation for the legislation, is because quite simply, there is none. There is no legitimate basis in the Constitution for the government to control decisions regarding what health care a person receives, what medical services and medications are appropriate for a patient, who is to pay for those services and products and how much they are to cost. Of course, for a federal government that recently concluded it is proper to bail out some private business but not others, to purchase controlling interest in some corporations but not others, and to honor certain contracts but not others, it’s not really that big a step to directly control individual health care.
The response to another question about the constitutionality of a proposed federal edict is even more revealing of the low esteem in which many congressional leaders hold that once sacred document. West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who chairs the Commerce Committee, apparently is peeved about people who “text” with their handheld electronic devices while driving. Not content to leave responsibility for addressing the problem to the several states, through long-standing laws that allow civil suits and criminal prosecutions of persons who cause accidents while driving negligently (for whatever reason, including being distracted by an electronic device), Rockefeller is proposing federal legislation to ban “texting” while driving.
At a recent Commerce Committee hearing, during which concerns were raised about the constitutionality of such legislation, and about the principle of “federalism,” Rockefeller proudly proclaimed his constitutional disinterest thus — “I don’t really give a hoot about states’ rights or federal rights on this one. I care about results.” The “results” include another nail in the coffin of constitutional governance in the United States.