November 2, 2009
No Health Care in the Constitution
Nancy Pelosi was recently asked by a reporter, ""Madam Speaker, where specifically does the Constitution grant Congress the authority to enact an individual health insurance mandate?"
She replied, "Are you serious? Are you serious?"
Yes Madam Speaker, we are serious. At least, I am. In my opinion, our Constitution is the most profound political document ever written. Many Americans besides me would really like a "serious" answer to that reporter's question.
Democrat House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer at least made an attempt at an answer. He was also asked where in the Constitution was Congress granted the power to mandate that a person must buy a health insurance policy.
Well, in promoting the general welfare the Constitution obviously gives broad authority to Congress to effect that end. The end that we're trying to effect is to make health care affordable, so I think clearly this is within our constitutional responsibility.
News flash for Congressman Hoyer: "general welfare" is mentioned only twice in the Constitution. The phrase appears once in the Preamble, but the Preamble gives the legislative branch no authority whatsoever.
"General welfare" is also mentioned once in Article I, Section 8. Here is what it actually means in that section.
The powers of the legislative branch are stated in the Constitution. The powers specifically granted to the Congress are spelled out in Article I, Section 8. Since it isn't that long of a section -- and there aren't that many powers -- I will reproduce the entire enumerated powers of the Congress in the first endnote below[i].
The words "general Welfare" show up in the first line of Article I, Section 8:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States ... [Emphasis added.]
Notice that the Constitution doesn't say the "general welfare of the citizens of the United States." It says "general Welfare of the United States." This clause only gives the Congress the power to raise money to defend the country and pay for the day-to-day operations of the government. It says nothing at all about building bridges to nowhere, or paving bike paths, or spending money on any other kind of pork barrel project -- including health care. Read the rest of Article I, Section 8 below. The exact powers of the Congress are listed there.
That's it. That is all the constitutional power that Nancy and Steny have. I know this because the people who wrote the Constitution stuck on two pesky amendments. I like to call them the "And we really mean it!" amendments. Here they are:
Amendment 9 The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.Amendment 10 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.
The exact wording of the 10th Amendment is important. Here, the "United States" clearly means the federal government. The powers of the United States (according to the Constitution) are not the same as the powers of its citizens ("the people"), nor are they the same as the powers of the individual states.
So the phrase, in Article I, Section 8, "general Welfare of the United States" only applies to the inner workings of the federal government. The Framers could not have made the point any clearer. Pelosi and Hoyer have no power over the citizens' health care because they are given that power nowhere in the Constitution.
The words "health" or "health care" appear nowhere in the Constitution[ii].
So according to the 9th and 10th Amendments, the "right" of health care must be guaranteed and paid for by each individual state. For example, Massachusetts has made access to health care a "right." According to the Constitution, the citizens of a particular state can do that. Massachusetts can make government-mandated health care a "right."
Whether or not the citizens of Massachusetts can afford to pay for that "right" is turning out to be quite a problem. But that is a dilemma for the people of the state of Massachusetts to work out. If the folks in Massachusetts don't want to pay for the "right" to government-mandated health care, then they can elect some different politicians and repeal the law -- or they can move to a state the does not guarantee a "right" to government-mandated health care.
If a particular state does not provide a government-mandated "right" to health care, the choice to provide (or not to provide) for our own health care is up to each of us. Health care is our choice, but it is not a "right" if it has not been made a right by an individual state.
At least that's what the Constitution says. Seriously.
Larrey Anderson is a writer, a philosopher, and submissions editor for American Thinker. His award-winning novel is The Order of the Beloved. His latest book is the memoir, Underground : Life and Survival in the Russian Black Market.
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.