Cato Institute scholar Gene Healy makes a good argument that the health-care reform bills now before Congress are unconstitutional. Forcing citizens to buy a product—health insurance—certainly sounds like it might require powers not granted by the constitution.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pooh-poohed this notion as “nonsensical,” because “the power of Congress to regulate health care is essentially unlimited.” Essentially unlimited—that has a scary ring, doesn’t it? Healy argues that such an act is “flagrantly unconstitutional.”
But this may make little practical difference:
In answer to the question “by what authority?” Reid’s bill offers the Commerce Clause — the go-to provision for friends of federal power. That clause gives Congress the power “to regulate Commerce … among the several states.”
It was a modest measure designed to regularize cross-border commerce and prevent interstate trade wars — so modest, in fact, that Madison described it in the Federalist as a clause that “few oppose, and from which no apprehensions are entertained.”
The Founders would have worried more had they known that the Commerce Clause would eventually become a bottomless fount of federal power. In 1942’s Wickard v. Filburn, the court held that the Commerce Power was broad enough to penalize a farmer growing wheat for his own consumption on his own farm.
So do we think that, if passed, Obamacare will be overturned by the courts?
Don’t count on it. Wickard v. Filburn was just the beginning of a federal power grab via the constitution.