Sen. Feinstein 'Assumes' Commerce Clause Gives Congress Unlimited Authority to Mandate Health Insurance

December 22, 2009 - 7:12 PM
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that Congress has the authority to mandate that people buy health insurance, adding that this is an unlimited power that stems from the Commerce clause of the Constitution.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) (Photo Courtesy of the senator's Web site)

(CNSNews.com) – Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that Congress has the authority to mandate that people buy health insurance and that there is no constitutional limit on Congress’ power to enact such mandates, adding that this unlimited authority stemmed from the Commerce clause of the Constitution.
 
The health care bills in both the House and Senate require that every American purchase a health insurance policy. At the Capitol on Tuesday, CNSNews.com asked Sen. Feinstein: “Where in the Constitution does Congress get the authority for an individual health insurance mandate?”
 
Feinstein said: “Well, I would assume it would be in the Commerce clause of the Constitution. That’s how Congress legislates all kinds of various programs.”

 

 
CNSNews.com followed up by asking Sen. Feinstein whether this broad power had any limits: “If there’s a health insurance mandate, is there a limit to that authority? Is there something that can’t be mandated?”
 
Feinstein responded: “My own view is that there is not, within health insurance.”
 
The Commerce clause is found in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. It states the numerous powers authorized to Congress, including the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among several States, and with the Indian tribes.”
 
The Senate version of health reform imposes an historic mandate on all Americans, requiring them to have government-approved health insurance, either through an employer or individually. The mandate also can penalize people with a surtax ranging from $500 to nearly $1,500 per year if they do not have a health insurance policy.
 
The bill, which looks certain to pass the Senate sometime on Christmas Eve, is unpopular with the public, garnering the support of barely 40 percent of Americans, according to recent national polls. Those numbers led Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele to accuse Congress of “flipping the bird” to the American people.
 
“This is a bad bill, it is bad, certainly for individuals and enough is enough,” Steele said in a conference call on Monday. “I am tired of Congress thumbing its nose and flipping a bird to the American people. I’m tired of this Congress thinking it knows better than me and my family how to provide for our health care now and in the future. I’m tired of this Congress not listening to me and to the American people – to all of us.”
 
In 1994, when the Clinton administration attempted to push a health care reform plan through a Democratic Congress that also mandated every American buy health insurance, the Congressional Budget Office determined that the government had never ordered Americans to buy anything.

“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. “An individual mandate would have two features that, in combination, would make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.”