(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Wednesday that mandating that individuals purchase health insurance may be a “violation” of the Constitution, and that it contradicts what he thought the “limited” role of the government was understood to be for “centuries.”
Both the House and Senate versions of the health care reform bill include an individual mandate—the requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance or face a penalty.
CNSNews.com asked Sessions: “Where does Congress find in the Constitution the authority to mandate that an individual purchase health insurance?”
“I think that’s a very serious Constitutional issue in two respects. First, I’m not sure it’s not a violation of the Constitution,” he said.
“But second, if it’s not a technical violation of the Constitution, it violates, uh, I think what was normally considered, uh, over the centuries that this is a government of limited powers and we ought not to do everything even if we are able to do it legally.”
Congress has limited powers enumerated in Article I of the Constitution, and those not explicitly enumerated are reserved for the states and the people under the Tenth Amendment.
Democrats often cite the Commerce Clause (Section 8) of Article I as granting the authority to create an individual mandate, because it allows Congress to regulate “interstate commerce.”
Section 8 says Congress has the authority: “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;”
Sessions, however, said the individual mandate forces commerce that may not have otherwise taken place. “So, this is a reach in which we will require individual Americans to purchase something they don’t choose to purchase,” he said. “It’s a breach further than we ought to go.”
The Senate version of the bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, imposes a mandate on all Americans to have a health insurance plan approved by the federal government, either by purchasing an individual or family plan, or by acquiring one through an employer.
When the Clinton administration attempted to pass its own health care reform package in 1994, which ultimately failed, it also contained an individual mandate. At the time, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) called the provision “unprecedented.”
“The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States,” the CBO analysis said. “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.”
Sens. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) raised a point of order on Tuesday, questioning the constitutionality of the individual mandate, on behalf of the Republican Steering Committee.
Sessions and other Republicans supported it, but the point of order was dismissed Wednesday afternoon in a roll call vote that split along party lines.
In a floor speech when he raised the point of order, Ensign said, “I am incredibly concerned that the Democrats’ proposed individual mandate provision takes away too much freedom and choice from Americans across the country.
“As an American, I felt the obligation to stand up for the individual freedom of every citizen to make their own decision on this issue. I don’t believe Congress has the legal authority to force this mandate on its citizens.”
The bill, which is all but certain to pass the Senate on Christmas Eve, is largely unpopular with the American public. A Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday said just 36 percent of registered voters approve of the plan, while 53 percent disapprove. Similarly, the poll found that 38 percent approved of President Obama’s handling of the issue, while 56 percent disapproved.
After the Democrat-controlled Senate found its bill constitutional Wednesday afternoon, the body also undertook a “cloture” vote, to end debate on the bill, which passed on a party line vote as well.
Senators will convene at 8 a.m. Christmas Eve to vote on final passage of the bill, which will then have to be combined with the bill passed by the House of Representatives before being sent to the president to sign.