With the Supreme Court likely to render judgment on President Obama’s health care law this week, the White House and Congress find themselves in a position that many advocates of the legislation once considered almost unimaginable.
In passing the law two years ago, Democrats entertained little doubt that it was constitutional. The White House held a conference call to tell reporters that any legal challenge, as one Obama aide put it, “will eventually fail and shouldn’t be given too much credence in the press.”
Congress held no hearing on the plan’s constitutionality until nearly a year after it was signed into law. Representative Nancy Pelosi, then the House speaker, scoffed when a reporter asked what part of the Constitution empowered Congress to force Americans to buy health insurance. “Are you serious?” she asked with disdain. “Are you serious?”
I’m no constitutional scholar, but I have taken a class or two on the subject. The first thing that jumps to mind is the phrase “enumerated powers.” While regulating interstate commerce is indeed one of Congress’ enumerated powers, the idea that that authority extends to making people purchase health insurance from private companies is a quantum leap from any previous legislation.
Obamacare was not only supposed to be his signature policy victory, it was supposed to complete the New Deal and Great Society social safety net. It is inconceivable that something so important wasn’t built on a firm constitutional foundation.
Was failure the plan?