WASHINGTON – Legal experts attempted to persuade a divided Senate Judiciary Committee why certain provisions of the new health-care law are constitutional,or not,after several attempts to strike down the law.
The hearing on Wednesday came two days after a Florida judge ruled the law unconstitutional and hours before a possible vote in the Senate on a an amendment to an unrelated bill proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell,R-Ky.,that would repeal the law. The repeal effort lost on a 51-47 vote Wednesday evening.
Earlier,a federal judge in Virginia ruled that the mandatory-insurance provision was unconstitutional,but left the rest of the law intact.
Republicans on the committee repeatedly said how they wished a discussion of the law’s constitutionality had occurred last year before the Senate passed the law. Sen. Chuck Grassley,R-Iowa,compared the situation to Alice in Wonderland.
“Like in Alice in Wonderland,‘Sentence first,verdict afterward,'” Grassley said.
The hearing focused on the constitutionality of a clause in the health-care law mandating that everyone buy health insurance. The witnesses focused on the government’s right to compel individuals to enter contracts with private insurance companies and whether a person’s a decision to not buy health insurance should be regulated.
Barnett said the provision gives Congress an unprecedented amount of power.
“Congress would have all the discretionary power of a king,and the American people would be reduced to its subjects,” Barnett said.
Fried and Carvin said the provision mandating the purchase of health insurance has caused disagreements in the legal world. Fried said U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson’s recent ruling in Florida declaring the provision and the health-care law unconstitutional as an example of “intellectual confusion.” Carvin said the provision is a manipulation of the Constitution.
“This is not some semantic lawyer’s critique,something we came up with in response to the health-care act,” Carvin said. “It’s is a core principle that goes to the most basic constitutional freedoms and limits on federal enumerated powers.”
Carvin said that if the government has the right to require the purchase of health insurance it could also require the purchase of other things,such as cars. The constitutional experts said the Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether the provision and the law are constitutional. Dellinger said well-known laws such as Social Security and minimum wage laws were declared unconstitutional before the Supreme Court ruled they were constitutional.
On the day of a possible Senate vote and in the wake of Vinson’s ruling,committee members expressed differing thoughts about the future of the law.
Sen. Amy Kolbuchar,D-Minn.,asked how Vinson’s ruling would affect putting the law into effect. Sen. John Cornyn,R-Texas,said people are worried about the law because it changes the relationship between citizens and government. He said there are many ways to improve the health-care law other than working with the current law or repealing it.
“I think they call that a fallacy of false dichotomy. There’s not just two choices – there are many choices available to Congress if this were to be repealed,” Cornyn said.