LAMBRO: Punishment by any name

Americans to pay more, get less with Obamacare

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The Supreme Court’s historic debate over the constitutionality of President Obama’s unpopular health care law is all about economic freedom.

That freedom has been battered, bullied and beaten by the government over many decades in countless laws and restrictions, and it will be further eroded by this ill-advised health care law now before the high court.

At stake in the court’s review is whether an all-powerful federal government can compel Americans to buy a health care plan they neither want, need nor can afford.

That’s what the law’s “mandate” would do, and anyone, outside its religious exemptions, who refuses to purchase health insurance will be punished. The federal attorneys in Monday’s first round of oral arguments alternately called the punishment a penalty or a tax - although whatever they may call it, it’s clearly a punitive fine meant to force Americans to buy a commercial product against their will and to submit to the government’s awesome power.

All of this will be done under the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which gives the feds the authority to regulate interstate commerce. But 26 states and millions of Americans think they’ve gone too far and want the law’s mandate struck down by the highest court in the land.

What’s at stake here from the government’s viewpoint is the financial structure of the health care law that will come crashing down like a house of cards if its central mandate is found to be unconstitutional.

The overhaul was sold to the health care and insurance industries with the promise that just about everyone would be buying into it. Millions of Americans and businesses without health insurance will buy policies, and that will provide the funding to make universal coverage affordable, or so the theory goes.

Take away the forced mandate and you can kiss those potential customers goodbye - and with it the additional business the health care industry needs to pay for the other insurance coverage mandates the Democrats in Congress stuffed into this law.

Mr. Obama and his party rammed this program through the Congress despite opposition from ordinary Americans, struggling small businesses and the states who will bear the brunt of higher Medicaid costs.

The president had expected that the health care law would be a major political winner for him and the Democrats, but it has proved to be a big disappointment. They lost the House and part of the Senate in 2010 and are facing daunting challenges in 2012. If anything, Obamacare has become even more unpopular.

The New York Times reported Monday that five days of polling last week found that only 36 percent of Americans “approve of the health care law, while 47 percent are opposed.”

By nearly 2-to-1, those who strongly disapproved of the law outnumbered those who said they strongly approve of the legislation, the newspaper said.

An earlier poll from the AP-National Constitution Center found that 82 percent did not think the government should be able to force them to buy health insurance or be fined if they didn’t.

Even those who worked to help shape Obamacare now acknowledge that the law’s mandate was a mistake. One of them is Princeton University’s Paul Starr.

“Democrats managed to get themselves the worst possible result: a law that enflames the opposition on the basis of overreaching federal power but may not work in practice because there is no real power behind it,” Mr. Starr wrote in the New Republic.

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About the Author
Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is the chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, the author of five books and a nationally syndicated columnist. His twice-weekly United Feature Syndicate column appears in newspapers across the country, including The Washington Times. He received the Warren Brookes Award For Excellence In Journalism in 1995 and in that same year was the host and co-writer of ...

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