A Republic: If we can Keep it!

Constitutional Republic

Constitutional Republic

Unfortunately for all of us, we are now faced with a huge crisis. The crisis is viewed differently on either side. Yet, it is a crisis all the same. On the one side, the crisis is seen as the final crusade to be able to assure that everyone in the U.S. is mandated as equal. Not equal in opportunity but equal in outcome. The key to this ideal, is the completion of a federalist agenda and the expansion of federal power to supplant most states control.  The opponents to this desire have painted the promoters as wanting to create a socialist or fascist state eliminate all personal holdings and remove profit from any equation creating methods to redistribute wealth to the poor and eliminate any that have been able to accumulate more than another. Much of the Continue reading
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More Challenges to the ACA (Obamacare)

No Taxation Without Representation!

No Taxation Without Representation!

From Boston Massachusetts

By now, we all know that the Supreme Court upheld the insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also known as Obamacare.  To recap, 26 states brought action to have the mandate, declared as an unconstitutional expansion of federal power under the commerce clause, the necessary and proper clause, and as a minor point its taxing authority.  The Supreme Court agreed with the states and found the mandate unconstitutional under the commerce clause, and the necessary and proper clause. However, in what many felt was a stunning decision by Justice Roberts­—and judicial over reach, the court upheld the mandate as a Continue reading

The Supreme Court Decision: It hurts to be wrong-but it hurts more to be right and still wrong!

Now that we have all heard the decision by the Supreme Court on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), perhaps it is time for some reflection.  I know as I read the decision Thursday morning, while I was waiting in the queue preparing for a radio interview on the issue, I felt both vindicated in my initial analysis, but also left wanting and inadequate for not seeing the sideways tax justification for its declared constitutionality.

First a recap

There were four questions heard by the Supreme Court in this case. Continue reading

Obamacare Supreme Court Ruling Likely Tomorrow: What will it mean to me?

If the discussion around water-coolers across the nation, or if the intensity of the discussion I have been having at meetings, discussions, or speeches I have given lately is any indication; then regardless of the decision from the Supreme Court tomorrow on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare if you prefer, the nation will once again find itself in a vitriolic and unnecessary national argument.

If you want to find out about the background of the core issue, you can read my Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause Articles or you can read, Supreme Court to hear arguments on Obamacare: An enigma, based on a canard, wrapped in a conundrum and read how the decisions could come down.

Regardless of the decision, it is clear that we will again have a major upheaval over any decision.  Passions are still running extremely high, and everyone seems to think this is the “be all and end all” of our future life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  And all of us are wrong!

The decision, regardless of how it comes down, will neither further harm our healthcare system, nor will it improve our healthcare system because we just do not have a system in the first place.  What we have is clearly not a system.  In my recent book, The History and Evolution of Healthcare in America: The untold backstory of where we’ve been, where we are, and why healthcare needs more reform!, available at Barnes and Noble and  Amazon, and other fine bookstores, I discuss how we got to what we have today, how the practice of healthcare has evolved over the years – sometimes not for the benefit of patients – how we arrived at the point where what we believe and expect from healthcare is more mythical than reality, and some ideas on what we need to do to make available both choice and effective care for all.  It is a result of our collective mythical vision of healthcare and inaccurate focus on the symptoms, not the problems of our healthcare system, in the current bill, that we find ourselves with a collective national angst that will in the end just yield political discord not fix the fundamental problems.

As I write this, I am listening to the debate on the Eric Holder contempt of congress issue, also pending determination tomorrow.  Again we are in the middle of a huge national division and if one is cynical enough, we may come to the conclusion that this is all part of some diabolical plan. Since we have come to the place where instead of citizen politicians, we now have a professional political class whose job is to sell us free stuff and fulfill our wants, more than our needs, in exchange for our votes, and thereby significant power and riches; perhaps this is why we seem to have become a nation of thirds who argue everything, and find our leaders unable, or more likely unwilling, to fix the problems.

We are now composed of about 1/3 hard left progressive, 1/3 hard right conservative, and about 1/3 of the nation seem caught in the middle.  You should wonder, what would politicians have to get reelected on if they stop giving us free stuff; and how, on earth, would they get us to give them money so they can afford campaigns, if we are not mostly extremely irritated over something?  I am starting to think it is not our integrity and character that gets us engaged in critical issues anymore, but more likely it is just our passions.

There are some who declare that “Fast and Furious,” was a planned effort to create a national outrage in order to continue to clamp down on gun rights and perhaps severely restrict the second amendment.  Some label this actual fact, and some call this nothing more than wild conspiracy theory.  We all participate in this to some extent because we now habitually believe there can only be one extreme or another, not some logical blend in the middle.  The problem for those of us who are not trying to find conspiracy at every corner, is that we are at a nexus of a number of events created by the actions of the current and prior administrations that all seem to have at least some conspiracy elements in the actions.

In addition to “Fast and Furious,” you have the the actions and events over immigration reform, and the President’s recent unilateral action to implement some form of a dream act. You have the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Arizona Law and the administrations action to shut down the rulings effect by suspending the cooperation between ICE and Arizona’s police departments, and if you look back at the Affordable Care Act debate in congress. You have on the record, statements from people like Barney Frank and Charlie Rangle, and some others, who stated that the health care bill would be the path to a National Single Payer Healthcare system.  While you can look at each item discretely, and argue there is no Machiavellian agenda, when you look across the entire spectrum one needs to wonder if there is some agenda at work after all. And of course, the answer becomes; Yes –  there is an agenda.

Of course there is an agenda, and hopefully it is because those pursuing it truly believe what they are doing is right for America and Americans.  But being right for America and right for Americans may not always yield the same decision.  If may seem right for Americans to have congress conflate the promise given by the Constitution to all for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness into an extrapolated promise of free heath care for everybody paid for by the government.  Conversely, at the same time it may not be right economically for the viability of America, to assume what historically was a personal responsibility if the assumption of these costs would bankrupt the nation.  Both decisions, in the narrow view, are good and reasonable decisions.

One path to a decision, has the benefit of giving something to political constituents that will help endear politicians to their electorate and gain reelection.  The other, could change the last fifty years of building the expectation that it is the government, not the individual, that needs to be responsibility for their own heath.  Regardless, this is just not a good situation for any of us, and it is partly why the bill that passed to become the law that is Obamacare is not really liked by either side or the middle.

While the 1964 extension of Social Security Act to include Medicare and Medicaid, was sold as a safety net, the reason for the passage was political gain, clearly on display if you listen to the Johnson tapes available today on-line.  And, subsequent to passage, regardless of whether or not there really was a Machiavellian plan, we have continued to want, and/or allow, Congress to convert the “safety net” into a national entitlement.  The end point is the same.

This is the reason that as we await the decision from the Supreme Court tomorrow, I do not think it will matter one iota in actually addressing the problems that we need to solve or developing a real system to make available both choice and effective healthcare for everyone.

The wheels of justice not only turn slowly they often confuse the common man

If you want to listen to the lengths modern law and its practitioners, lawyers, go to spin reality and obscure common sense to convince courts that which otherwise normal people would deem ludicrous, just go to and listen to yesterday’s oral arguments on the Tax Anti-Injunction Act part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) Supreme Court review of its constitutionality.

It is interesting to note that the Solicitor General, representing the government, seems to be schizophrenic as he attempts to argue for the Obama administration’s position that the court cant here the case because of the act—as the President does not want the decision to come till after the election—and on the other hand in representing the position of the government (the people in general) he tells the court that he thinks the court should hear the case.

Another point to note as it has very particular relevance is that in his argument yesterday, he describes the assessed fee for not purchasing insurance, under the mandate clause of the act, is a tax.  Tomorrow he will be arguing that it is in fact a tax.  This schizophrenic position has been confounding the government’s position since they debated the law and passed it in the first place.  In arguing why the case can be heard, Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli, argues that the penalty is not a tax for the purpose of the Tax Anti-Injunction Act.  Tomorrow he will argue that the “penalty” is in fact a tax to justify the federal government’s position that it can levee it and therefore it is not violating state’s rights.

It is very important to note that like congress and the president, the power of the judicial branch, including the Supreme Court is granted, loaned if you will, from We, the people of the United States.  As such, if the decisions rendered make no sense to We, the people, then it is either because they are wrong or not crafted to reflect well on our intentions as a people.

We need to begin to exercise our responsibility as the grantors of these very important and solemn powers and demand that all decisions and arguments be rendered with a standard of language that we can all understand and does not obscure whether or not our constitutional rights are being upheld.

I encourage everyone to take the time to listen to the arguments in the first person, not as reported by others.  Yes they will take a combined six to nine hours but to allow others to police our rights is to grant them the power to help obscure the elimination, or neutering, of our rights.

To quote and old friends mother, “Pay attention, you can learn something from a fool!”  I worry that in the end the fool will be us!

Supreme Court to hear arguments on Obamacare: An enigma, based on a canard, wrapped in a conundrum.

Enigma, based on a canard, wrapped in a conundrum!

March 26, 27, and 28 2012, become the next significant dates in the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare).  It is on these dates a little over two weeks from now that the Supreme Court will hear arguments both challenging the constitutionality of part of the legislation and arguments as to why the court should uphold the legislation. For most of us on both sides of the aisle, involved in the debate over healthcare reform, we see this as an enigma, for widely opposite reasons, as to how we have arrived today at this point.

For those of you that are interested in this current debate, you can find a number of places to read the arguments, or you can simply read someone else’s interpretation of the arguments.  Here, are some links:

My advice to you is, don’t rely on others interpretations, read the source documents for yourself.  Everyone, including me, are bringing their own bias to their review; some unintentionally, many intentionally.  This has become the partisan issue of this decade.  None of these arguments is a simple read for the non-lawyer.  I would argue that it is the view of a non-lawyer, the view of a common citizen that is now most required to be heard.  The lawyers now are so wrapped up in the history of all judicial actions, and their arguments are both driven by, and necessarily constrained by, the rulings that have preceded; the legal principle of stare decisis—Latin for stand by the decision—the obligation for the court to uphold what has gone before.  It is now, that someone, not a lawyer, needs truly to ask what is the right principle.

As James Madison wrote, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” This
constitutionally mandated division of authority was “adopted by the Framers to ensure protection of our fundamental liberties.”

I am not a lawyer, and I have my own biases.  I write this, not to tell you what to think, but to tell you how I have chosen to understand this issue.  I hope you will use this as a stimulus to plot your own quest for an answer.  We are at a point in our history that if we do not reengage as citizens, in an active role, in the formation of our governance, we will find that the government that we end up with, will be consumed by forces we do not want, nor can we afford.   The power of our “constitutional republican” form of government is based that the power comes from the people, is enacted by our representative people (the extension of us, not a special or elite class), and is for the benefit of us, the people. We are now at a critical juncture, where we, as a people, need to review the decisions we have allowed to be made and expanded like weeds in an uncultivated field, over the past seventy years.  We need to determine if what we now have accurately reflects what we intended; and if not, we need to no-longer allow the subtle expansion, and extension of federal powers, to continue indeterminately.

I am not arguing if we do, or we do not, agree with the constitutionality of the mandate in the Affordable Care Act.  That argument should come, but it needs to come after we determine if the precedent decisions, beginning with the pivotal case of Wickard v. Filburn reflect what we intended: and if it does not, then the pending arguments will continue to leave us sliding down the slope.  If it does, then we all must now accept the ramifications and understand the fundamental change to our current constitutional republican form of government that will fall out of these next actions.

For a review of the historical actions that have led to the current belief that the Federal Government can enact such a law, feel free to read my prior articles: Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause Articles, Entitlement vs. Safety Net: It’s not a matter of degree!, U.S. District Court of Appeals “Reaches” for the answer to the purchase mandate, and ACA, Politics, Mandates and the Commerce Clause.

The Arguments

As the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed, the controversy and the challenge began immediately.  Within hours of passage, states’ legislatures and attorneys-general began filing actions to block its implementation.  Some of these actions were new state laws that helped limit the laws effect.  But, the more effective challenges were the suits filed by the states to block the federal law’s implementation.

Numerous arguments were originally made to challenge the law.  Arguments that the act violated the constitutional right of privacy, violated the free exercise of religion, and even violated the thirteenth amendment prohibiting slavery, along with many others, were made.  As the cases have moved through the judicial system, the plethora of arguments has continually been pared down to a remaining few.  In a little over two weeks, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a subset of the original arguments.

There are now two main questions pending from the original challenges and two additional questions posed by the court itself.

  • Remaining Questions
  1. Does the Individual Mandate clause exceed congress’s enumerated powers?
  2. Does the expansion of eligibility of Medicaid to include all legal citizens less than 65 years old and earning less than 135% of Federal Poverty Level (FPL)—approximately $37,500.00 per year—force the states to implement what is federal legislative power thereby violating the separation of powers principle?
  • Additional Questions
  1. Does the Tax Anti-Injunction Act bar the court from hearing the case?
  2. Is the mandated coverage constitutionality question severable from the remainder of the act?

Supreme Questions

In reading through the briefs and the summaries, available through the links above, I see the arguments breaking down this way. On the side to overturn the legislation, the arguments are framed as to whether, or not, the original intention of the commerce clause in the constitution, grants this right to the federal government, or does it remain as a right of the people i.e. the individual states.  The arguments for the act to be upheld seem to me based on legal tricks and gimmicks to justify the extension of the power based solely on the extensions that have gone before.  Perhaps this is not fair but I believe the fundamental question needs to supersede those decisions that have gone before, with which I think most Americans would also disagree.  I think it is mere trickery to cite one bad ruling as the basis for another if the root decision is in question.

Despite the tricks and histrionics on both sides, the basic argument comes down to, is it the federal government, or the state government, that have the authority to enact  legislation governing personal behavior.  The main argument for this federal right is the precedent cases, not the root argument of what the Commerce Clause actually means.  For me, it is this framing of the debate that is now the problem.  If the arguments are bound by the principle of stare decisis, then I believe the logical conclusion will be a 5 to 4 decision in favor of upholding the mandate in the ACA.  If the issues revert to the principal determination of whether, or not, the commerce clause was framed to grant any of the rights, now assumed by precedent, to the federal government, then I think we will have a 5 to 4 decision overturning at least the mandate portion of the law.  And, without the mandate, most believe that the ACA law becomes moot.

The secondary argument made by those in favor of the mandate follows the “everything now is interstate commerce” logic because if people do not conform to this mandated behavior then their actions become a fiscal drain on the rest of us, because either the industry, or the government now must go provide for their needs, and the cost will get passed back to the rest of us.  But, this argument is a canard.  The cost to us for lack of action by others is a real cost, but it is predicated by a government action of over forty years ago that mandates that we are going to provide the services in the second place when the individual fails to take appropriate steps to be responsible for their own needs in the first place.  By the way, I am not talking about eliminating a safety net.  We need a safety net!  Safety nets should be provided for the helpless.  What we have today is not a safety net, it is an entitlement, and while some helpless get benefit, predominantly it is providing support for the clueless and the worthless.

The recent Birth Control debate is a timely example.  Forget the religious argument; this is mere political theater at this point.  The argument goes like this.

Someone, employers or insurance companies, i.e. us due to cost shifting, must pay for birth control for women because it costs too much and they cannot afford it.  They will have sex and some will get pregnant.  They will then have babies because they cannot afford, or do not want, to get abortions. Then the government will have to pay to birth these children and support the mothers and their children causing a larger fiscal drain than the cost of birth control itself.

This is a canard because the requirement for the cost for the voluntary pleasurable act of sex, a biological drive, that may result in pregnancy and birth of a child, only places the cost of birth and support of the mother, and child, on us, because we have chosen to accept the responsibility of these costs in the first place.  I am not arguing whether or not we should do this.  I am simply saying we made a choice to do this, and to take the responsibility for the act off the participants and place it squarely in our collective laps.  To swallow the argument that one now begets the other is to believe that the requirement for us to absolve the participants of their personal responsibility and accept the burden of their actions is somehow inviolate and must remain so for all time.  This is simply false.

The humanistic, moral and ethical implications aside, we should be under no perpetual obligation not to revisit the original decision as to who is responsible for what in society.  There are many other cultures around the world that do not accept this responsibility at all, and often these acts result in poverty, pain and in some cases death to mothers and children.  We choose to be more humanistic, and believe ourselves more moral and ethical, and have chosen to believe that we are obligated to support those that will not support themselves.  Understand I am not arguing we should not do these things, I am just pointing out that this decision is both cause and effect on many others we now face.  It is political gamesmanship to present one side of a justification as fait a compli, this is routinely done in the body politic these days, and often fools us into limiting the debate and choices, yielding ineffectual results.

Another argument by the supporters of the ACA is based on the following quote,

“Opponents of the health care law say that if it is upheld, then government can force people to buy an American car or eat broccoli.  But, a person can opt not to drive a car or eat vegetables: no one realistically can opt out of health care.”

This argument follows, what is called in sales, “the Reverse Ben Franklin Close.”  In effect, this technique is geared to obscure the argument, by saying that you can be forced to buy a car and to eat broccoli if you are also forced to buy healthcare insurance, but unlike the others, you do need health care.  In effect, leaving the impression that they are not equivalent and therefore, the worry is not valid. The technique, not the argument, obscures the real issue.  Yes, you almost certainly will need healthcare as you live, and your need will grow proportionally to the length of time you live. But, the argument is that we have to pay for your healthcare not the fact that you need healthcare and don’t need broccoli or to drive.  We don’t pay for your car or vegetables.  That is ultimately the key question.  It is not the benefit of the ACA. The question is, at what point does a safety net come into play to serve the needs of the helpless.  How do we define the helpless?  And, how do we filter out the burden of the clueless and the worthless? Currently we have chosen to propound the philosophy that all people are now entitled to healthcare, regardless of their personal choices or life planning.  We do not as yet entitle people to a car of free vegetables.  The worry by some is that this is coming next.

Does the Individual Mandate exceed congress’s enumerated powers?

This question has become the key question and the key argument for, and against, the viability and continuance of this legislation.  Is the federal government authorized to require citizens to purchase health care and in effect penalize them in the form of a tax or a penalty if they do not buy insurance?  The crux of the argument, for this federal power, is a U.S. Supreme Court case that was argued in 1942, Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111.  I have written about the case in my article, Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause. I will not rehash the case here but encourage you to go read the article and read the link to the case.

In reading this case, and the other cases that piggybacked on top of Wickard to justify the expansion of federal power, I have come to my own conclusions.  As you read those articles, you will find clearly what I believe.  The question is not what I believe, it is what you believe, and more importantly, what do we, the people, believe is the appropriate border line between where the state’s power begins and the federal power ends.

Does the expansion of eligibility of Medicaid to include all legal citizens less than 65 years old and earning less than 135% of Federal Poverty Level (FPL)—approximately $37,500.00 per year—force the states to implement what is federal legislative power thereby violating the separation of powers principle?

This issue in the end is a non-issue.  The crux of this argument hinges on one of the same tenants as the Mandate—where do the federal powers end and the state powers begin.  This argument began at the formation of the constitution in Philadelphia, and has continued to rage since the formation of the government, and the election of George Washington as the first president.  It was the main factor in the initial fractionalization of the founding coalition government in Washington’s first term, into one that had the federalists, headed by the strong central government vision of Alexander Hamilton, on one side, and the republicans, headed by the anti-monarchists, state’s rights principals of Madison and Jefferson, on the other side

Medicaid is a federal program.  In fact, Medicaid is an extension of Social Security, as is Medicare.  But, if you listen to the current administration they want it both ways.  On the one hand, the president calls Medicaid a state program, but, on the other hand, he wants the federal government to set the rules.  The state governors clearly and uniformly call Medicaid a federal program, and since it is breaking the banks of the states, would prefer to remove the expense from their books.  The conundrum is because in 1965, as President Johnson was framing the extension of the Social Security Act, the legislators know that they had to make Medicaid a “state” program or it would violate the separation of powers principles.

Does the Anti-Injunction Act bar the court from hearing the case?

This argument was raised in the case I discuss in U.S. District Court of Appeals “Reaches” for the answer to the purchase mandate.  In essence, there is an argument that the court should not be able to hear the case, because this act prohibits courts from preemptively enjoining any federal collection of tax revenue until after the revenue is collected.  The base argument is the court cannot enjoin the federal revenue stream until there is real harm.  I actually think the premise of this argument restricting courts below the Supreme Court is valid.  This act provides a check on the courts by eliminating a mechanism where lower courts could effectively shut down the federal government by strangling its cash flow.  I do not feel the same way at the level of the Supreme Court, in that, if it also binds the Supreme Court, the law would grant an unequal power to congress to prevent the Supreme Court from ruling on the constitutionality of some laws prior to harm being done. The Supreme Court is supposed to be the peoples effective check on the powers of congress to create bad law. I don’t think most of the justices are inclined to agree that Congress can pass a law that prohibits them from reviewing congressional actions.

Is the mandated coverage constitutionality question severable from the remainder of the act?

This is another interesting set of arguments and important to those arguing for and against the legislation.  When congress wrote this law they specifically excluded a clause that would allow for any section of the code that was found unlawful, or unconstitutional not to affect the other provisions.  So, on the face it would be argued that it was the intention of congress that all part of this law stands together, and if one part falls they all fall.  Of course, the counter argument is that since there is no statement that says that it all stands as one and it is not dividable on the merits then it must be severable.  I believe this argument is window dressing for the most part.  I believe the justices will rule with a significant majority that the law is severable.

In the end, the main piece is the Mandate. If the mandate falls, for the most part, the law falls.  If the mandate stands, than the law stands: another step in the additional extension of power to the federal government will occur and despite the contrite arguments from both sides, this new precedent will become the stage for another expansion later on.  If the mandate stands, Hamilton and his federalists would have been thrilled, and Madison,  Jefferson, and their republicans, would have been horrified.

The conundrum is that despite our best intentions, intelligence, humanity, economic analysis, and strong convictions, we have now created a major problem based on fundamental disagreement over what the founders intended and whether we are to stay true to this intention or if we should feel free to change it at will.  Frank Zappa once said, “The crux of the biscuit is the apostrophe!”  (There may be a few of you that actually know what this was in reference too, and for those that do, I apologize for the original context. If you know feel free to post in the comments area. I will post the explanation in a few days if others do not.)  I am using the statement to illustrate that the apostrophe of this conundrum is at the point that helping some people becomes detrimental to all people.  Spock said to Kirk, “Sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”  This is a loaded statement, as the needs of the many may be affected in very dangerous and deleterious ways by catering to the needs of the many.  Sometimes, as in this case, society gets to the point where the definition of what is needed needs to be clear and it is imperative to prioritize the fundamental needs and eliminate the extraneous wants.

In the end, we are faced with an enigma, based on a canard, wrapped in a conundrum!  I hope we have the national and personal character to address the problems and find real resolutions.

 Note: I hope this article at least provides a process for you to seek your own answer.  I am sure once again we will be much divided, but perhaps the arguments can become fundamental and appropriate, and no longer tangential, and irrelevant. I ask you to come back and post your thoughts in the comment section.

Latest Book: Delusional Ravings of A Lunatic Mind by Tom Loker

new book by Tom Loker

As I wait for the eventual completion of my book on health care, currently in rewrite, I have put together a book of my best articles from this past year on this blog. The book is now available as an e-pub on Kindle and Amazon and others in the growing list below. (check back here as the list grows) The paperback version will be available in the next few weeks so stay tuned. I will put up the various links as they become available.

We put this book together for those of you how like the blog and Tom’s articles to share with your friends and relatives. And if you don’t like Tom’s writings we would like to point out this book will also make a great gift for those people you don’t like as well! Inside the pages you will find articles about healthcare, history, politics, the economy and a few creative pieces centered on St. Mary’s County Maryland, where Tom grew up. We do hope you enjoy the the stories!

e-Book Links:

Amazon – Kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006G2Q9OC

Barns & Noble – Nook http://tinyurl.com/7cg9mew

Powell’s Books http://tinyurl.com/83ven8p

Diesel Bookstore http://tinyurl.com/74agmps

eBookMall http://tinyurl.com/7jbhl9s

Printed Book Links

Just released to print… Dec 15, 2011

NOW available at Amazon B&N and other booksellers.

The Blame Game: A Recent Letter to the Editor

“…it is thus compromise on the basis of tolerance for others’ opinions that lead us to good solutions….” – Benjamin Franklin

In a recent letter to the editor, yet another writer wants to make the point that the current economic problem is President Bush’ fault. He uses all of his 200 words to carefully craft a picture of why it was Bush’ fault.

Yesterday, I saw the same thing as to why it was President Obama’s fault. Again, all two hundred words carefully selected to make this seemingly very important point.

Having written a few letters to the editor, I can tell you from first hand experience it is not usually for me a five-minute thing. Two hundred words is a very narrow field to present a counterpoint to some point you are debating. Usually it takes almost half of the space to frame the issue in the first place.

These two writers are not alone. I see tens, if not hundreds, of these dialogs each day. Each side spending an inordinate amount of time to present the case why this person, or this party was wrong, wrong, wrong…

Clearly, the sheer volume of people, and the amount of time, bandwidth and ink devoted to this subject would indicate it is of the most extreme importance. Well it’s not!

The big issue at the moment is solving the problem. And solving this in a pragmatic way – not partisan way. unfortunately, it is not just the new mayor of Chicago who thinks no crisis should go to waste. It seems to be the philosophy of many of us if not most of us.

Each issue appears not to be an issue we need to solve – more it seems they are issues we should exploit for some other benefit. This has been the pattern since the early 1960s. The Great Society was not just to find solutions to help the poor, it was as stated by Lyndon Johnson on a phone call with Wilber Mills and Carl Albert,

“something that we (democrats) can run on for the rest of the century.” (listen to the President Johnson Tapes online, search on medicare)

And we can’t leave republicans out of this either. They have played the same games over the years.

Since everyone seems to think we need to assign blame before we solve the problem, let’s do this. Lets agree to start at the beginning of the root causes…

  • It is Franklin Roosevelt’s fault for describing Social Security in 1935 without recognizing that the transition to a private annuity system as he described would be lost to the winds of entitlement fever.
  • It is Truman’s fault for both extending the coverage and not addressing the concerns of the legislators at the time that argued about future insolvency.
  • It is Eisenhower’s fault for also increasing benefits and coverage while again not addressing the growing concerns over solvency
  • It is Kennedy’s fault for again extending the coverage and entitlements and getting assassinated before he could begin to affect some of the changes he saw needed to be done.
  • It is Johnson’s fault for extending the original act to include Medicare and Medicaid, ignoring the advice of the experts in congress including Wilbur Mills who repeatedly warned this scheme would not work, and then codifying the grants and gifts to the poor as the method to ensure democratic election and instituting the class warfare approach that is now the norm.
  • It is Nixon’s fault for removing the country from the gold standard instead of extending the standard to all precious metals.
  • It is Carter, Regan, Bush and Clinton that further reduced the restrictions on the banks, changed the regulations like the Mark to Market Rule and eliminated the Glass Steagle Act that multiplied the fiscal problem and continued the course of expanding entitlements.
  • And it was both Bush and Obama that again compounded the problem by consenting to the short-term solutions and compounding debt based fixes.
  • Further, it is all the congresses, bankers and federal reserve leaders that are also at fault for not addressing the issues, using them to fulfill other agenda and promulgating their self interests ahead of strategic solutions.
  • And finally, it is us for not paying attention and reveling in the constant, and unrealistic, expansion of our wages, home values, benefits, and desire for more without looking for or listening to concerned opinions.

Did all of these actors in this damnable play behave badly for their own self-interest? Not really. Where there certain hooks that were included at each phase to get our consent that were in their best interest? Of course! In every case there was justifications for why, and many times good arguments on why in the short-term this solution, or that solution, made sense. The problem was, they also knew in the long-term there would be a problem and did, or could do, nothing at the time to fix it. Of course, once the issue was temporarily solved – no one else chose to address it so it was pushed to the future to deal with it. And now it is ours. And it is, in fact ours. It is not our children’s as we like to think. We have run out of time and circumstance. That is why the symptoms of the disease are again raising their ugly heads with a vengeance.

Now that we have discussed blame, let us all tolerate the blame assigned to our favorite figures as we relish the blame in those we don’t like. If we simply agree the blame is inclusive and historically almost all-encompassing, then perhaps we can stop the blame debate, at least for some of us, and focus on solving the current dilemma.

This problem is a collective problem. One – many years, many parties and many administrations in the making. It is at our doorstep and will either define the next stage of our prosperity as a nation or our inevitable decline. We must all stop trying to focus on who it was that is at fault and how we can use it to foist our “pure” ideology on the other side. We simply must find a good pragmatic solution.

As Ben Franklin said, ” it is thus compromise, based on tolerance of others opinions that leads us to the best solution!”

ACA, Politics, Mandates and the Commerce Clause

Focusing on the insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act, (Obamacare) a few months ago I wrote a series of four articles for a publication, reproduced here as, “Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause Articles.”  In these four articles, I explored why I found the base argument that the government could regulate activities like these in a state difficult to fathom by reading the commerce clause in the constitution.

[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;

In my original look at this issue, I examined  the precedent cases cited by many as the basis for the idea of why the Federal government had, in this case, a superior right to the sovereign rights of the states, something that all agree was expressly limited by the framers of the constitution.   Reading these historical rulings made this concept that this is a Federal right even more difficult to swallow because I found that these earlier rulings often were even less convincing and often more startling in the extent that the arguments became even more extracted and remote in their nature.

In reading  the arguments and the rulings of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, I found an additional reason why I find the base idea that the Federal government has the right in instances like this to regulate the action of individuals in a state even more specious.  This is actually the simplest argument against such a right, and likely it would even hold the same effect at a state level.  It is part of the many arguments that have been made in the numerous constitutional challenges over these past few months.  But like much of these debates, the nature of the arguments has become complicated by excess verbiage and legal flanking obscuring for most of us the basic concept.

This additional argument comes in to points.  First, let us look at the definition of the word commerce.  In reviewing the many variations of the definitions available there are some basic common elements throughout.  They combine into the following.

com·merce
(komerse)
NOUN:

  1. The buying and selling of goods, especially on a large-scale, as between cities or nations.
  2. Intellectual exchange or social interaction.

Second, we simply need to ask a very obvious question, and one that while it has been raised by the legal scholars in the various debates in one form or another, it has been lost in the myriad levels of complexity provided more, it seem, to delight the ears than to illustrate the point. 

If commerce is either the act of buying or selling something, and depending on whether or not the activity was international, with the indian tribes or among the several states it could either be regulated by either the Federal government or the states.  How is NOT buying anything then an act of commerce in the first place?  And, if it is in fact NOT commerce then the argument on who regulates the action under the commerce clause is moot.

Of course legal scholars will use tangents of the “Wickard vs. Filburn” case to argue that not buying is an action that reduces the commerce among the states and therefore in reducing the revenue is itself something that impacts commerce and therefore can be regulated.  I guess this is the kind of argument our parents made for us to eat lima beans.

As a child my parents, who were good and nurturing parents, used to make me eat lima beans.  Every time I took a mouthful of lima beans, I had to rush to the bathroom to vomit.  And of course when I came back to the dinner table, I had to have yet another mouthful of lima beans, promulgating the same response.  Their justification was they were good for you.  Of course, the loss of the rest of the contents in my stomach and the various fluids and electrolytes that went along for the ride, did not enter into the equation – lima beans are good for you, we have lima beans, ergo  you need to eat the lima beans because they are good for you!

My father, a lawyer and son of a prominent judge, I suppose was simply adapting some of the arguments from the prior court rulings justifying the extension of the federal powers under the commerce clause, when he said, “There are people in other lands who are starving and it would be a sin for you not to eat those lima beans while they starve.”  He must have chosen this argument because it is so similar in the base points made in the historic extensions of federal power under the commerce clause.

In “Wickard vs Filburn,” the court ruled that poor old Roscoe Filburn’s wheat had to be destroyed because he grew more than the law, at the time allowed, even though he was using it on his own farm to feed his animals.  In the case against Roscoe, it was deemed against the law because his flagrant activities of wanting to feed his animals this ill grown wheat, reduced the grain he would have had to purchase from other states if he had not committed the heinous act of growing it himself.  Of course the fact that he likely would have bartered with the farmer down the road in his same state and that Roscoe, during the depression, likely did not have any cash to pay for the wheat in the first place was not relevant.  Roscoe, was not buying wheat from other states and as a result he was affecting interstate commerce and therefore the Federal government had the right under the commerce clause to regulate him so his wheat had to go.  Now Roscoe, eat those lima beans because they are good for you!

We have a strong habit in this country to stretch quite far to make the points we want to make.  We will obscure, misdirect, abstract and extend, often by many more than the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in order to get the result that we want.  In doing this, either in the desire to accomplish an end we know people otherwise would not support or to appear brilliant by the use of flowery language and abstract argument, we often forget the simple and common sense argument.  The one we can all understand.  The one that actually stands up to quick and continued scrutiny.

Throughout these articles I have not wanted to argue whether or not we as a nation should require all to purchase insurance.  There are very good arguments both for and against this practice.  I simply am saying making these further and further abstract arguments, whether by legislative action, or judicial injection is not the way to achieve it.  In the end we spend billions of dollars arguing points that any person working in the fields or factories would screw up their faces and say, “What?”    If you related the “Wickard vs Filburn” issues to anyone working for a living they would have a simple answer.

In the end it is not hard to subvert intentions.  In the case of our current political motivations regarding the Affordable Care Act , so called Obamacare, we see exactly the extent that politicians and governments will go to get the outcome they want.  It takes years of very expensive education and hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, to arrive at the decisions that have been rendered based on the various political governmental and abstract interpretations of the commerce clause!  Only we can ultimately stop this and force those we elect to find the simple and most pragmatic answers.

Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause (Part 4)

The patient protection and affordable care act purchase mandate –
A four-part series on the relation and effects of the Commerce
Clause to Health Care

By: Thomas W. Loker

The following is the last segment of a four-part series where author, Tom Loker, explores the impact of the Commerce Clause on Obama-Care.

Image by Author

PART FOUR: A Time for a Fresh Look

In the last article, Sliding Down the Slope, we discussed how continuing court decisions and additional legislations have continued to push us further and further down the slope of federal oversight and control of increasingly larger parts of our daily lives. We also looked at how our historical interpretation of the commerce clause has muddied the water as to where the responsibility of the states to regulate our actions ends and responsibility federal government begins. Now, let’s look at this, from an everyday person’s perspective, as to what this may mean related to the current debate over the constitutionality of the PPACA mandate for all to purchase insurance.

 Who’s Right?

However, going back to the issues the framers were attempting to protect against, is it consistent with the framers view that the expansion of liability, as it is promulgated under this act, should so far abrogate personal responsibility as to the outcome of bad choice and bad behavior? Merely arguing that there is some benefit to a consumer does not make the clause relevant. The original expansion argument under Filbern that any commerce can be derived to be interstate commerce no longer seems to be a reasonable inference. Intrastate commerce itself is not innately subject to federal jurisdiction. The principle motivation to protect the consumer is not, in-and-of-itself, sufficient justification to regulate intrastate commerce, nor does it immediately give rise to the notion that all commerce is interstate.

The issue of the application of the Commerce Clause related to PPACA is even more muddled in that one of the principled arguments against this legislation is that it does not open the state-centered administration of health insurance nor does it provide an open and competitive interstate market. Most, if not all states, specifically regulate insurance provided within their borders. The inability of consumers to purchase insurance plans across state lines itself should stave off the argument that this is in some way per se interstate commerce and subject to the clause. The historical Filbern argument is even more difficult to rationalize in the absence of a transportable open state policy mandate.

Intrastate Regulation and Fairness

A reach to enforce the mandate for purchase of insurance under the auspices of the Commerce Clause is a hard one, indeed, in that the benefits to consumers that could be argued in the justification to impinge individual freedoms and economic liberties for the greater good are lost when the purchase itself is confined within intrastate regulation. Effective argument can only be made based on interstate availability of insurance whereby the policies available across the state line are comparable in standard of fees and services provided and transportable from state to state after purchase. An item, good, or service that is purchased in, and only is consumable, within one state and is subject only to the regulations of the state where the service was purchased and consumed in no way logically rises to become interstate. Further, any argument that attempts to provide nexus for an interstate affect, as in the case of Filburn, should be deemed to interpretation in the same manner as was done in Lopez.

A Voice Speaks Out

Specifically in relation to the Commerce Clause; let us agree with Justice Kennedy and walk a slow and careful path. In every case possible, let us demur to the authority of the state and the preservation of individual rights and liberties.

Finally, most recently in hearings of the Judiciary Committee relating to the debate for the need of tort reform legislation pursuant to the PPACA debate, one congressman, who shall remain nameless, while arguing why Tort reform was not necessary for the federal government to consider, made the following argument: He stated that in his long history as a strong states’ rights advocate, he had never seen an instance where health care was provided in a clinical setting and where the clinic existed simultaneously in two states, or between the borders of two states. As such, the provision of care was always done within the border of one state and therefore could not be interstate. The congressman further stated that if the person received care in one state, while a resident of another state, and that the care was provided under the licensure, regulations and authority of the state where the service was provided, that this was still no more interstate commerce than any other commercial action as prosecuted within a state on a daily basis.

Clearly, the evolution of the argument of the Commerce Clause, as providing a basis for regulations governing protection to consumers, can from time to time provide a broad and expedient method to justify such federal powers; these powers are innately the proverbial slippery slope. The framers carefully crafted the Constitution to preserve individual liberties and freedoms above all others. To allow expansion of federal powers under the aegis of the Commerce Clause, which has happened over the past few hundred years, is one of the more dangerous areas of law we have today. As such, full and unfettered caution must ensue.

The Judge Steps Up

Justice Kennedy wrote,

“[T]he Court as an institution, and the legal system as a whole, have an immense stake in the stability of our Commerce Clause jurisprudence as it has evolved to this point. Stare decisis operates with great force in counseling us not to call into question the essential principles now in place respecting the congressional power to regulate transactions of a commercial nature. That fundamental restraint on our power forecloses us from reverting to an understanding of commerce that would serve only an 18th century economy, dependent then upon production and trading practices that had changed but little over the preceding centuries; it also mandates against returning to the time when congressional authority to regulate undoubted commercial activities was limited by a judicial determination that those matters had an insufficient connection to an interstate system.”

Let us agree with Justice Kennedy and walk a slow and careful path. In every case possible, let us demur to the authority of the state and the preservation of individual rights and liberties. I also suggest we only allow federal regulation when such regulation is meant to provide a mechanism by which it can normalize controls on behalf of consumers among states; where interstate commerce requires only federal control for solution or provision of benefit; or where it is necessary to regulate the actions among the states, not among or between the citizens of the states. Let us be mindful that the actions of the states themselves will not harm the public good or unfairly impost taxes, duties or levies between the states or with other nations or Indian tribes.

This treatise, outlied in these four articles, is just one lay person’s read of this issue. If we cannot explain it to every man and woman. Perhaps the reach is simply too far!

Please remember to post a comment below.  If you like the article please let others know about it!

Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause (Part 3)

The patient protection and affordable care act purchase mandate –
A four-part series on the relation and effects of the Commerce
Clause to Health Care

By: Thomas W. Loker

The following is the third segment of a four-part series where author, Tom Loker, explores the impact of the Commerce Clause on Obama-Care.

Part Three: Sliding Down the Slope

The Dreaded Slipery Slope

At the end of the last article, Simple Issues – Complicated Problems, we were discussing some of the earlier expansions of the federal reach under the commerce clause and one landmark case, Wickard vs. Filburn, which strains many ordinary people’s cognitive grasp.   There are some other significant legislations and court decisions that take this strain to a new level – perhaps venturing into lands, heretofore, exclusively explored by the venerable Rod Sterling of Twilight Zone fame.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, made law that the liability for addiction and potential harm of a nostrum was in the hands of the person who purchased it not the manufacturer

In the late 1880’s, the rise in power of monopolies and cartels was having a deleterious effect on the population.  State laws provided effective controls intrastate, but the lack of solid legislative protections for the patent medicine manufacturers interstate was leaving them open to both economic and physical damage. The so called patent medicines were not protected by patent at all. Patents mandated disclosure of materials and methods so instead these manufacturers relied on trade secrets and brand protection.  Brand protection on an interstate level was the root of the problem for the patent medicine men.  In this mix grew one of the most dangerous cartels, the Proprietary Manufacturers Association, the makers of patent medicines.  While most states had forms of trademark protection, it was effective interstate protections that the Proprietary Association effectively lobbied for, and congress passed, with the Trademark Act of 1870.  Enacted under the authority of article 1, section 8, clause 8 alongside the Commerce Clause (clause 3), the Trademark Act allowed the members of the Proprietary Association to receive additional protections fostering their rapid growth and providing an instrument that allowed them to secure their brands interstate without having to disclose their formula or ingredients.  The effect on the population was devastating, not so much as to the economic impact, but to the addictive and deadly nature of the hidden ingredients in these nostrums. The effect on congress was even more troubling as the association’s power grew exponentially and soon they controlled 80% of all newspapers in the U.S., and with that and other contract-related devices, they had substantially gained effective legislative control.

Trademark Law Found Unconstitutional

As part of the political battle taking hold to reign in this emerging problem, the initial Trademark Act was challenged and found unconstitutional because it failed to make any reference to commerce with foreign nations, among several states, or with Indian tribes.  Moreover, the court found that the act made no mention of “the character of the trade to which it was to be applied or the residency of the owner.”   The battle continued with the Trademark Act of 1881, and then later the Trademark Act of 1905.

In addition to the Trademark laws that were effectively lobbied on behalf of the patent medicine men, the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was another step in  the government’s battle to protect the citizenry.  Created to control the anticompetitive and harmful actions of cartels like the Proprietary Manufacturers Association, the Sherman Act provided a framework to protect consumers from anticompetitive behaviors of cartels, monopolies and trusts.  Reflecting the political climate of the day, and the power of the Proprietary Manufacturers Association, the Sherman Act politicians were virtually unwilling to use the law until Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency fifteen years later.  Specifically justified under the Commerce Clause, the Sherman Act and the extensions that followed like the Clayton Act, Robinson-Patman Act and other pieces of law began to leverage the Commerce Clause as a means to argue for and extend the reach of federal regulation in areas of interstate commerce, particularly when it was for the good of the consumer.

The Control of the Patent Medicine Industry

Dr. Miles Medical Co. v. John D. Park & Sons Co., 220 U.S. 373 (1911) established that Retail Price Maintenance (RPM) was per se illegal and helped to interrupt the significant control the patent medicine industry was exerting over retailers of the period.  The tenant of the per se illegality of Retail Price Maintenance remained black letter until recent years.  Recent rulings like GTE Sylvania (1977) and Leegin Creative Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 128 S. Ct 2705 (2007) have begun to reverse these long standing decisions as reconsideration by the courts are again questioning the underlying basis of authority under the Commerce Clause.

Like Wickard v. Filburn, the creation and enforcement of the Sherman Act was motivated by the desire to protect the public.  Unlike Filburn, the Sherman Act stays well within the logical confines of interstate commerce to provide its authority for the protection of the consumer. It also serves to establish a limited framework for its use.  This act provided an indirect method by which to limit harm to consumers being wrought from the Proprietary Manufacturers Association.  This indirect method also became necessary and appropriate because the courts at that time did not recognize an ability to assess the manufacturer of an items liability mainly because the consumer made a reasonable choice.

As seen codified in the enactment of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, much of the liability for the addiction and the potential harm of a nostrum was not in the hands of the manufacturer, but in the hands of the person responsible for its purchase. So, as long as the manufacturer made the consumer aware of any of a list of specific potentially “harmful” ingredients it was thought to be held harmless.

Civil Rights Act—Interstate Normalization

The Commerce Clause has repeatedly been used to help legislate behaviors at the federal level.  After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Supreme Court issued several rulings supporting the use of the Commerce Clause in regulating enforcement of discriminatory behavior in businesses.  In the case of Heart of Atlanta  v. United States, 379 U.S. 241, the court ruled that Congress could regulate a business that served mostly interstate travelers.  More interestingly, in Daniel v. Paul, 395 U.S. 298 (1969), the court ruled that the regulation of recreational facilities was permitted because three out of four items sold at its snack bar were purchased outside of the state thereby subjecting the facility to the jurisdiction of the federal regulation under the Commerce Clause.

Again, it is clear that the intention of the act itself was to protect consumers against discrimination based on race, religion, or national origin.  The intention of this particular legislation is clear and understandable.  For the everyday person, the argument endorsed in Daniel v. Paul becomes problematic in that it smacks of interpretation driven by outcome.  For most readers, it is very hard to swallow that the Commerce Clause comes into play because some or even most of the items sold in a related activity may have been subject to interstate purchase.  This stretch makes it hard to find any tacit alignment that bolsters the rest of the arguments many of which appear weak and overly broad.

Gun Free School Zones

Gun-Free School Zones v. Lopez, the Supreme Court was faced with a challenging decision.  A 12th grade student had been convicted of carrying a concealed handgun into a school in violation of the Gun–Free School Zones Act of 1990.  The lower court found that in Wickard v. Filburn the Court had ruled that Congress was exercising its Commerce Clause power to police local economic activity because the individual states were powerless to regulate it themselves. More specifically, this was determined to be the case because in the opinion of the court only the federal government was able to manage the national wheat supply and control prices.  The lower court reasoned that if you extrapolated the same arguments to acts of gun violence because crime negatively affected education, congress could conclude that crime in schools clearly affected commerce; therefore it ought to be federally regulated.

Nationalizing Police Power

One can rapidly come to the conclusion that if this in fact were true, the entirety of all police power in all states could be nationalized because all crime therefore has some impact on interstate commerce. In this case, the Supreme Court overturned the lower courts verdict.  Justice Thomas, in his concurring opinion, argued that allowing Congress to regulate intrastate, noncommercial activity under the Commerce Clause would confer on Congress a general “police power” over the entire nation.

Clearly, once again, the intention was to find some way to allow the federal government to help protect the citizenry from harmful acts.  While the intention was and is noble, the argument that this is an applicable extension of federal power under the Commerce Clause simply does not hold.  In allowing these stretches to carry our normal imagination to such levels that old Rod would be proud.  Mr. Sterling started each show with the quote, “You’re traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous – land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone!”  The difference between Mr. Sterling’s excursions and the commerce clause debate, are that the ramifications of this mind trip have very significant  consequences on each of us, and ultimately the health care we will be able to
access.  In the last and final article we will discuss the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (PPACA)

Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause (Part 2)

Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause

The patient protection and affordable care act purchase mandate

A four-part series on the relation and effects of the Commerce Clause to Health Care

By: Thomas W. Loker

The following is the second segment of a four-part series where author, Tom Loker, explores the impact of the Commerce Clause on Obama-Care.

Part Two: Simple Issues—Complicated Problem

In the prior segment, Clear Words – Muddy Intent, we discussed the evolving debate over for what most people on the surface seems a simple, clear and concise statement as to where the federal branch of government’s responsibility related to commerce begins and ends.  The simple and direct interpretation that most laypeople draw from the Commerce Clause—which is an “enumerated power” in the United States Constitution (article I, section 8), that provides that Congress has the power ” To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”—is that when commerce transpires among the states, as in between one or more states, then the federal branch is responsible to provide regulations that control such commercial transactions, and when commerce is between citizens inside of the boundaries of a state then it is the state’s responsibility to regulate those transactions.  This seems clear to most people but…

Over the past several hundred years, smart men, (perhaps sometimes not-so-smart) often trying to secure honorable goals, (OK, sometimes selfish goals) for the common good, (yes, sometimes not for the common good at all) have parsed, prodded, twisted and convoluted these sixteen simple words into marvelous interpretations that confound the average persons intellect.

Wickard v. Filburn: A broad reach?

Filburn was growing more wheat than allowed—even though it for private consumption. He was fined and ordered to destroy his crops by the federal government.

The historical applications of the authority as interpreted under the sixteen words in this clause have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.  In Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision that increased the power of the federal government to regulate what  would seem to most a state-based, perhaps private activity.  Roscoe Filburn was growing wheat for his own consumption.  As part of the “New Deal” legislation, rushed through congress to ameliorate the effects of the Great Depression, The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 limited the area in which farmers could devote to wheat production. Filburn was growing more wheat than was permissible—beyond the limits even though it was not for sale. Filburn intended it for private consumption. Ultimately, he was fined and ordered to destroy his crops.  The courts found that because Filburn was growing more wheat than allowed, his actions somehow reduced the amount he would have purchased on the open market. Simply because wheat was traded nationally, the courts maintained Filburn’s acts affected interstate commerce which meant that he was under the federally regulated mandate of the court’s interpretation of the Commerce Clause.

The Government’s Unfettered Access

It seems that it is a difficult and dangerous stretch to view the Commerce Clause as a law that allows the federal government unfettered license to restrict individual freedoms in the same manner as the restrictions against Filburn. By nature of the argument as upheld in Filburn, any self-reliant activity could be determined to impede commerce in that if I,  as an individual grow it, hunt it, or fish it, then I am not purchasing the item from others and therefore am affecting interstate commerce.  I further find the argument specious, in that there is no basis to determine, other than abject supposition, that should Filburn have not grown his wheat himself that the wheat would have been purchased from an interstate supplier instead of an intrastate source.   More likely in keeping with the times, he would have simply bartered for the un-grown grain in the first place.  I believe this is a very dangerous expansion of federal powers that directly and potentially infringe permanently upon Filburn’s liberties which, in the end, caused him economic harm.

What’s the Logic?

If this remains the modern interpretation of the Commerce Clause, then it is would be clear that the mandate to purchase health care, as proscribed by the PPACA, strictly by the historic definition as decided in Wickard v. Filburn is therefore constitutional because any commerce between parties, even intra-state, can affect the purchase of goods and services inter-state.  Further, using the same logic, any affect that the lack of purchase could have on the cost of care to others within a state to offset the cost to the individuals supported by the state’s health systems, including private insurance, Medicaid, community based etc., would also become subject to the federal regulation under the commerce clause.

There are at least two flies in the ointment to these arguments.  One is the obvious one as discussed in the Wickard v. Filburn case, which is that it is a large conceptual leap for most normal people to see how the actions that Mr. Filburn engaged in should have been subject to federal intervention in the first place.  But the second, and more interesting, argument is based on the circumstances of how insurance is actually provided to citizens of the states in the first place, and the resistance by some in the federal government to actually have a national insurance market at all.

Crossing State Lines?

Insurance within states today is subject to regulations that exist in, and are specific to, each state.  Health care provided within one state is subject to the health regulations of that state.  There is little, to no, transportability of an insurance policy for a worker in Pittsburg, Penn. to have the same policy in San Francisco, Calif.  Recently, during a congressional hearing on tort reform, one democratic congressional representative (and noted constitutional lawyer) remarked—and I will paraphrase here—that since health care was not provided in a manner that it crossed state lines, that in every case he was aware of such care was provided within the jurisdiction of the state, and since he had never heard of care being provided in any hospital where the patient receiving care, or the hospital itself for that matter, existed simultaneously in two states at the same time, therefore, in his learned opinion, tort reform was a state’s rights issue and not subject to federal jurisdiction under the commerce clause.   So how is it that the foregoing statement can be factual and true, while at the same time Wickard v. Filburn is also true?  One of them simply must be a dangerous canard!  But the key question is which one?  This is THE question that today we, the people, must decide as the outcome of this decision will either fundamentally empower us or further restrict our life and liberties.   This must be our collective choice alone.

In the next installment, we will look at other regulations and decisions by the courts that further confound this vital determination, and most importantly, further expand the gulf between the ordinary ability of a normal person to read and understand common language and the legal wrangling and interpretations that follow.