A Message from Congress: No One Questions Our Authority

February 3, 2010 - 4:31 PM
Since Congress started debating these bills, CNSNews.com has been asking members of Congress: Where does the Constitution authorize Congress to force individuals to buy health insurance? The legislators have given a variety of answers. Some could give no answer at all.
(CNSNews.com) - In the history of the United States, Congress has never forced individual Americans to buy any good or service. That would change if the health care bills approved by either the House or Senate ever became law. Each would require individuals to buy a health insurance plan approved by the government.

Since Congress started debating these bills, CNSNews.com has been asking members of Congress: Where does the Constitution authorize Congress to force individuals to buy health insurance? The legislators have given a variety of answers. Some could give no answer at all. The video embedded here puts their answers back-to-back.
 

 
Transcript of video:

FIRST FRAME:
 
“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined.”
--James Madison
Federalist No. 45
 
SECOND FRAME:
 
The health care bills approved by the House and Senate both mandate that individuals buy health insurance. Congress has never before ordered Americans to buy anything.

THIRD FRAME:

“The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.”
--Congressional Budget Office Memorandum, August 1994
 
FOURTH FRAME:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah): “If that is held constitutional--for them to be able to tell us we have to purchase health insurance--then there is literally nothing that the federal government can’t force us to do. Nothing.”
 
FIFTH FRAME:

CNSNews.com asked Members of Congress: Where does the Constitution authorize Congress to force individuals buy health insurance?
 
SIXTH FRAME:

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.)
CNSNews.com: "
Where, in your opinion, does the Constitution give specific authority for Congress to give an individual mandate for health insurance?"
 
Leahy: "We have plenty of authority. Are you saying there is no authority?"
 
CNSNews.com: "I’m asking--"
 
Leahy: "Why would you say there is no authority? I mean, there’s no question there’s authority. Nobody questions that."

SEVENTH FRAME:
 
House Speaker Pelosi Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.)
CNSNews.com:
“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?”
 
EIGHTH FRAME:

Sen. Mark Warner (D.-Va.)
“There is no place in the competition, in the Constitution, there is no place in the Constitution, there is no place in the Constitution, there is no place in the Constitution, there is no place in the Constitution that talks about you ought to have the right to get a telephone, but we have made those choices as a country over the years.”
 
CNSNews.com:
“Does the Constitution give Congress the authority to mandate whether individuals should purchase health insurance – to mandate that they have to purchase health insurance?”
Warner: “The United States Congress passed laws regarding Medicare and Medicaid that became de facto mandatory programs. States all the time require people to have driver’s licenses. I think that this is a bit of a spurious argument that’s being made by some folks.”
 
NINTH FRAME:
 
Sen. Bob Casey (D.-Pa.)
CNSNews.com:
“Where does the Constitution give Congress that authority, for an individual health care mandate?”
 
Casey: “Well, I don’t know if there’s a specific constitutional provision.

TENTH FRAME:

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D.-Hawaii)
CNSNews.com:
“Does the United States Constitution give the United States Congress the authority to mandate individuals to have health insurance, to carry health insurance?
 
Akaka: “I’m not aware of that--let me put it that way. …
 
CNSNews.com:  “Is there any specific area of the Constitution that would give Congress the authority to be able to mandate individuals to have to purchase health insurance?”
 
Senator Akaka: “Not in particular with health insurance. It’s not covered in that respect.

ELEVENTH FRAME:

Sen. Roland Burris (D.-Ill.)
CNSNews.com:
“Federally, if you look at it from a federal standpoint, what area specifically of the Constitution would give Congress the power to mandate an individual to have health insurance?”
 
Senator Burris: “Well, that’s under certainly the laws of the--protect the health, welfare of the country. That’s under the Constitution. We’re not even dealing with any constitutionality here. Should we move in that direction? What does the Constitution say? To provide for the health, welfare and the defense of the country.”

TWELFTH FRAME:

Sen. Jack Reed (D.-R.I.)
CNSNews.com:
“Specifically where in the Constitution does Congress get its authority to mandate that individuals purchase health insurance?”

Reed: “Let me see. I would have to check the specific sections. So, I’ll have to get back to you on the specific section. But it is not unusual that the Congress has required individuals to do things, like sign up for the draft.

THIRTEENTH FRAME:

Sen. Bernard Sanders (I.-Vt.)
CNSNews.com:
“Where in the Constitution does Congress get the authority for a health insurance mandate?”
 
Sanders: “Where in the Constitution? Probably the same place that comes Medicare and Medicaid and the CHIP Program and the Veterans Administration, and the health care programs that we’ve been doing for many, many decades.”  

FOURTEENTH FRAME:

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D.-Ohio)
CNSNews.com:
“Where in the Constitution does Congress get the authority for an individual health care mandate?”

Brown: “The same part of the Constitution that allows us to have Medicare. When I hear people that think this is a constitutional issue, my first question to them is, ‘Do you want to repeal Medicare?’ And some people, politically, are so extreme in this country that they want to repeal Medicare, and I think they’re dead wrong.”

FIFTEENTH FRAME:
 
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D.-Mo.)
CNSNews.com:
“Specifically where in the Constitution does Congress get the authority to mandate that individuals buy health insurance?”
 
McCaskill: “Well the -- we have all kinds of places where the government has gotten involved with health care and mandating insurance. In most states, the government mandates the buying of car insurance, and I can assure everyone that if anything in this bill is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court will weigh in.”

SIXTEENTH FRAME:
 
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D.-Ore.)
CNSNews.com:
“Specifically, where in the Constitution does Congress get its authority to mandate that individuals purchase health care?”
 
Merkley: “The very first enumerated power is power to provide for the common defense and the general welfare. So it’s right on, right on the front end.”
 
CNSNews.com: “Okay, if that’s the case--”
 
Press Secretary: “Thank you. I’m sorry, we have to get going. Thank you.” 

SEVENTEENTH FRAME:
 
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.)
CNSNews.com:
“Where in the Constitution does Congress get the authority for an individual health insurance mandate?”
 
Feinstein: “Well, I would assume it would be in the Commerce clause of the Constitution. That’s how Congress legislates all kinds of various programs.”

EIGHTEENTH FRAME:
 
Sen. Kent Conrad (D.-N.D.)
CNSNews.com: “
Could you specifically say where in the Constitution does Congress get the authority to mandate that individuals get health insurance?”

Conrad: “No, but I’ll refer you to the legal counsel for the Senate and they’re the ones that lead there as the full legal basis for the individual mandate--and I assume it’s in the Commerce clause.”

NINETEENTH FRAME:

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D.-La.)
CNSNews.com:
… What part of the Constitution do you think gives Congress the authority to mandate that individuals have to purchase health insurance?”
 
Landrieu: “Well, we’re very lucky as members of the Senate to have constitutional lawyers on our staff, so I’ll let them answer that.

TWENTIETH FRAME:

Sen. Ben Nelson (D.-Neb.)
CNSNews.com:
“Specifically, where in the Constitution does Congress get its authority to mandate that individuals purchase health insurance?”
 
Nelson: “Well, you know, I don’t know that I’m a constitutional scholar. So, I, I’m not going to be able to answer that question.”
 
TWENTY-FIRST FRAME:
 
Sen. Richard Lugar (R.-Ind.)
CNSNews.com:
“Where does Congress find the authority to mandate that people buy health insurance?”
 
Lugar: “I don’t have any idea

TWENTY-SECOND FRAME:
 
Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.)
CNSNews.com:
"Senator, on the health care issue, where in the Constitution does Congress get the authority to mandate that individuals get healthcare?"

McCain: "That is an excellent question, and I’m sure that if they pass health care legislation, I think there would be a challenge.”