A post by Maynard

Today Drudge linked to this NYT article.

WASHINGTON — When Congress required most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, Democrats denied that they were creating a new tax. But in court, the Obama administration and its allies now defend the requirement as an exercise of the government’s “power to lay and collect taxes.”

And that power, they say, is even more sweeping than the federal power to regulate interstate commerce.

One of the tragic aspects of modern America is how few of our citizens understand that the powers of the Federal government are limited and defined by the Constitution. Most people shrug and figure the government can do whatever it wants. Our ignorance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whenever the government illegally usurps power and we let them get away with it, another bad precedent has been set. It becomes legally okay for them to do it again in the future because they did it in the past.

For the record, here’s the Tenth Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

So where does Washington supposedly get its authority to justify Obamacare and so much else? Two sources are particularly cited: The Commerce Clause and the General Welfare Clause.

First, the Commerce Clause, as summarized in Wikipedia:

The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power listed in the United States Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3). The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”. Courts and commentators have tended to discuss each of these three areas of commerce as a separate power granted to Congress. It is common to see the Commerce Clause referred to as “the Foreign Commerce Clause,” “the Interstate Commerce Clause,” and “the Indian Commerce Clause,” each of which refers to a different application of the same sentence in the Constitution.

My understanding of “regulate” here means to render regular, rather than to control and micromanage. Also, note that the Federal government has no power at all to control intrastate commerce. That’s if you play by the rulebook, anyway.

The General Welfare Clause is a wart off the Taxing and Spending Clause:

“…to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States…”

Out of these simple, basic, reasonable powers allowed it by the people, Washington spins claims of absolute control over everything.

Once upon a time, when the Constitution was respected, it required an amendment to the Constitution to outlaw slavery. It also required an amendment to levy the income tax. Then we began to forget our heritage.

As we see today, a crisis provided an excellent opportunity to seize power. So it was with FDR’s New Deal. Civil libertarians raised objections…

In 1942, the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Wickard v. Filburn dealt a shattering blow to the concept of constitutionally limited government.

Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942), was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that dramatically increased the power of the federal government to regulate economic activity. A farmer, Roscoe Filburn, was growing wheat to feed his chickens. The U.S. government had imposed limits on wheat production based on acreage owned by a farmer, in order to drive up wheat prices during the Great Depression, and Filburn was growing more than the limits permitted. Filburn was ordered to destroy his crops and pay a fine, even though he was producing the excess wheat for his own use and had no intention of selling it.

How could they get away with this? It boggles the mind.

Anyway, fast-forward to the law requiring that the individual purchase health insurance. This is another unprecedented exercise of power. It’s not analogous to compelling you to buy auto insurance, since that sort of rule only kicks in if you choose to buy a car. The health insurance mandate criminalizes your very existence. Is this not a power that’s inherently tyrannical? Maybe next week they’ll mandate that you buy a jar of sunscreen lotion, or a box of bran flakes. Why not? I mean, if you don’t apply sunscreen and eat bran, you’ll end up using more than your fair share of medical resources.

Has Obama gone too far this time? It’s possible. Remember how he made a huge point of promising not to raise our taxes? If the health mandate is in fact a tax, then he’s breaking that promise in a big way; bigger than he’s done before, if anyone’s keeping score (as the mainstream media certainly isn’t doing). On the other hand, if the health mandate isn’t a tax, then it’s another blatantly unconstitutional expansion of Federal powers. In a sane world, it would be struck down — although of course we are not in a sane world.

So the Democrats have tried to straddle the fence. When accused of raising taxes, they say, no, they’re just posting a new regulation. When accused of regulating without Constitutional authority, they say, no, it’s just another tax. That’s what you see in that NYT article.

As a practical matter, this thing is going to get rolled back one way or another, either by repeal or by national insolvency. But the true tragedy is that it’s come as far as it has. When Washington even gives consideration to the sort of laws that are passing now, it’s obvious we’ve forgotten the Constitutional model of limited government. Where does that leave us, now that the contract between government and We the People has been dissolved?

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9 Comments | Leave a comment
  1. tamcat says:

    It leaves us in a trap that the powers in Washington have set for us. We can sit down and shut up, or we can do something about it. The president was put into office with the power of numbers. We too will have power in numbers come November & in the year 2012.

  2. Cernunnos81 says:

    Sadly they have assured that the people are ignorant. High School government classes and civics classes barely touch on where the government derives its powers, they don’t study The Constitution Thoroughly and they sure as hell don’t teach you what you need to know historically. Every history class I’ve taken over the years has painted Roosevelt as a saint that saved the country with his “New Deal”. They spent and spent and spent and nothing happened. It actually got worse for several years. When we finally started to climb out, despite the government interference, we got a lap full of WWII and that snapped the economy back onto its feet. I will give them the benefit that they Did create a Helluva lot of jobs. But they were jobs that can’t be created in modern America. The work projects in the CCC and TVA were brutally hard work and paid a pittance, not to mention they were dangerous as hell. Modern OSHA standards preclude anything similar.
    I Do have one Idea. And it would be through the government, though I Guess the state governments could fund it instead, and maybe get help from some of their neighbours. They have the opportunity for Shovel Ready jobs on the border, building the wall and I Do mean a Wall, not some sissy little fence.

    • Maynard says:

      Yes, it bugs me that the New Deal is still trumpeted as a success. It can be argued to have been a psychological success; it can even be argued that it saved the country — but for psychological reasons. It certainly didn’t bring us out of the economic crisis.

      The 1930’s was an era of political and economic voodoo. The New Deal was benign compared to Communism and Fascism, which were perceived to be mankind’s path forward. It’s ironic that Fascism is today an epithet (although many of the people that toss it around have no idea what it means), but Communism has a ring of nobility about it. Never mind the body count; the Communists meant well. It makes me crazy.

  3. BeforeGoreKneel says:

    WWII might be just an attractive excuse. Remember the bastard finally died and Truman took over. One of my father’s favorite war stories is how his ship did not fly the flag at half-staff for Roosevelt. Nor did any of the others nearby, as they were all under enemy fire.

  4. Cernunnos81 says:

    Was referring to WWII actually causing the manufacturers to begin producing heavily, creating jobs and reducing unemployment. FDR didn’t do a bloody thing to help that, as a matter of fact his Dove tendencies and Isolationist attitude (admittedly it wasn’t Just him) almost caused the death of Europe as we know it. Thank the Gods for the Japanese and our government’s obstructionist attitudes toward them. They never intended Pearl to be a sneak, well not so much of a sneak. Their Embassy in DC had trouble translating the letter of declaration into English and typing it up. It was supposed to be delivered about 2-3hrs before the attack, not after. Germany, of course, responded days later with their own declaration and the rest, as they say, is history.

    But yes, WWII pulled our economy out of the sewer and launched us to new heights afterward.

  5. Pat_S says:

    From Claiming Almost Everything is “Commerce:

    This professor argued that during the Founding Era the word “commerce” meant more than trade. Instead, he contended, “commerce” included all gainful economic activities. Hence Congress has a license to regulate the entire economy.

    An even broader version of this theory was published more recently by a Yale law professor. He maintains that “commerce” means any human interaction – so the federal government can regulate almost anything, so long as it doesn’t trample one of the specific guarantees in the Constitution, such as Free Speech.

    When it suits them, the big government gang will interpret the Constitution broadly as in penumbras and emanations or quibble over the meaning of a single word.

    The Constitution isn’t a Ouija board or a word game. The founders were plain speaking philosophers. There is no question as to their intellectual intent. The first attempt to form a government was The Articles of Confederation, a political structure granting even less power to the federal government. The Tenth Amendment emphatically erases any ambiguity as to their intent about federal powers granted by the Constitution. It is preposterous that powers identified in the Bill of Rights as enumerated could possibly mean the federal government has virtually unlimited powers.

    We’ve gotten to the point where the federal government can do just about anything it wants. The Obama administration is a sharp turn Left in what the federal government will choose to do. The power that was supposed to rest in the hands of the people now lies in a swing vote on the Supreme Court. This is the antithesis of what this country was intended to be.

    • Cernunnos81 says:

      Sadly they are almost all lawyers. Robert Anson Heinlein once stated that lawyers are required to swallow camels whole while retaining the ability to choke to death on a gnat. They will make up legal fictions whole cloth and it is accepted among them, but they will fight (almost physically at times) over the interpretation of a single word. Unfortunately they are trying to load the court with people that see things their way, wanting to grant more and more power to the government.

      They believe that they know better than the common person what is best for them. I am not a Social Darwinist, but I Do believe that the government “protecting people from themselves” merely leads to More reliance on the government. The government should only do a few things. Protecting us from invasion by foreign powers… (they’re not doing this one) Assisting in the wake of a natural disaster… (they’re failing at this one as well) Maintaining friendly relations with allied foreign powers… (Yup, you guessed it) Keeping each other in check… (nope) And making sure the states play nice with each other. All in all they’re getting a failing grade from Me on All counts. Those are my Personal opinions on what they should be limited to.

  6. FreedomsWings says:

    Anyone who follows the works of most of the Founders, minus perhaps Alexander Hamilton, know that they were men who not only had a distaste for a large federal government, they feared it because of the tyranny they had already experienced under Britain. They would never have meant for the Commerce Clause to have such a broad interpretation. I honestly laugh thinking about all the sheeple who have already or eventually will go out looking for their “free” healthcare and realize that the government is requiring them to either cough up the money for insurance or be fined. Yes indeed, Maynard, Obama promised no new taxes on us little people and argued against the Tea Party warning everyone that these fines amounted to a new tax by saying that this would not be a tax. And now that is their argument. I honestly feel I roll out of bed every morning into a vortex.

  7. […] to the Constitution, make sure to read Maynard’s excellent post at Tammy Bruce’s blog, Obamacare and Unlimited Federal Power, One of the tragic aspects of modern America is how few of our citizens understand that the powers […]

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