Yes, Congresswoman Pelosi, We’re Serious: On the Constitutionality of Obamacare
By: Dr. Paul Kengor
America anxiously awaits the Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare. At the core of the decision is a simple question: Is the “individual mandate” in Obamacare constitutional? And thus, is Obamacare constitutional?
Several times during the debate and deliberation, my mind harkened back to the words of former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Remarking on the original Obamacare bill, Pelosi infamously said that first “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
Even more outrageous was another Pelosi observation, especially given the pivotal role of the Supreme Court. In October 2009, Pelosi was asked by a reporter if the healthcare legislation was constitutional. Here’s a transcript of the exchange:
Reporter: “Madam Speaker, where specifically does the Constitution grant Congress the authority to enact an individual health insurance mandate?”
Pelosi: “Are you serious? Are you serious?”
Reporter: “Yes, yes I am.”
Pelosi’s incredulity at that perfectly reasonable question is as telling as it is stunning. She scorned the very thought, as if the reporter were either a total idiot, an unregenerate right-wing Neanderthal, or had flown in on a flying saucer from Neptune.
And yet, as Congresswoman Pelosi learned last week, the reporter had hit the crux of the issue. So did state attorneys general nationwide, who quickly filed lawsuits precisely on whether Obamacare is constitutional.
Pelosi’s contempt for that notion—apparently shared by many of her “progressive” colleagues—has come back to bite her and President Obama and the entirety of the progressive/liberal movement. Democrats who scoff at such questions do so at their own peril. There is another branch of government in this country; it’s called the judiciary. And that branch for over 200 years has been tasked with exactly such a duty: that is, reviewing the constitutionality of legislation.
Ironically, Pelosi’s behavior does a greater disservice to the goals of her own party than to conservatives. Liberals need to step back and understand what has unraveled with Obamacare: Their party leaders flagrantly ignored legitimate constitutional objections (and numerous other criticisms) raised by opponents. These objections were so well-placed that they now hold the potential to place a dagger in the heart of their prized legislation. If the individual mandate is struck down as un-constitutional, then the entire Obamacare legislation might be finished, given that the individual mandate is the chief funding mechanism for the entire program.
Even then, the constitutional problems don’t end there. Next up, probably next year, will be the Obama-HHS mandate requiring every American, including all religious believers and institutions—with the Catholic Church at the center of the controversy—to fund contraception and abortion drugs. Here, too, President Obama and his allies are pushing another mandate that will have to be reviewed by courts because of its blatant challenge to the Constitution—in this case, the First Amendment’s freedom of religion and conscience.
Alas, this brings me to a sincere query for liberals: Why do you tolerate Democratic Party leaders like Nancy Pelosi (among others)? I could literally write a book on outrageous Pelosi comments uttered just in the last five years, from amazing statements like those quoted above to her breathtaking remarks on her own Catholic Church and its teachings on human life.
Why do Democrats accept such shoddy leadership? They are making their dearest plans vulnerable to immediate rejection by the constitutional process. If I were a progressive dreaming of universal healthcare, I would be extremely disappointed. As noted by Joe Postell, a scholar on the progressive movement, progressives have been trying to implement “universal healthcare” since literally 1912, when those words appeared in that year’s Progressive Party platform. In 2009, they finally had their big chance, but may have blown it by ridiculing or ignoring—and not dealing with—their critics’ objections.
Or, on the other hand, do they have such disrespect and disregard for their critics that they don’t care what they say? If that’s the case, it isn’t prudent leadership. Think about your own life or career or home or company: For major decisions, don’t you at least consider possible obstacles or pitfalls?
Someday, “progressives” may have a solid majority on the Supreme Court and can blithely dismiss the original intent of the Constitution. If Americans keep voting as they do, such a majority is a distinct possibility. For now, however, they ignore realities at their peril. Simply calling conservatives idiots isn’t very smart.
Yes, Congresswoman Pelosi, we’re serious.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism," and his latest release, "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."