Primarily along party lines, the political feedback for Missouri's overwhelming rejection of the insurance mandate in the new health care law by a nearly 3 to 1 margin has ranged from euphoria to angry denial with a few yawns tossed in for good measure. As expected, Republicans applauded the vote as the launching of a national trend while the administration dismissed it as meaningless.
The message from the White House was that the vote meant nothing at all — press secretary and primary administration spokesman Robert Gibbs stated that initiative to exempt residents from the requirement to buy health care insurance "was of no legal significance" and meant "nothing." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dismissed the vote also, calling Missouri voters "uninformed."
It is a bit early to declare the effort either dead in the water or the beginning of a nationwide repudiation of "Obamacare." Twenty states and the nation's most influential small business lobby have filed suit alleging the mandate that individuals purchase health care insurance to violate the Constitution's 10th amendment. Arizona and Oklahoma both have propositions similar to Missouri's on the November ballot. Colorado and Florida have signaled intent to join that parade.
The Constitutional question revolves around the interpretation of the 10th amendment and "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 supporters of mandatory health insurance counter that argument, claiming the powers of the federal government under Article 1 Section 8 to regulate interstate commerce trumps those of the states. Not surprisingly, both sides of the aisle use the Constitution to back their arguments.
However, as the courts have recognized limits to the commerce clause in that it must regulate an interstate economic activity, the authors of the health care legislation have framed it instead as an excise tax, a measure that raises red flags over the power of government to tax in enforcing an order. This legislative end around the Constitution has placed Congress in an adversary position with the president who very adamantly denied the health insurance mandate is a tax in a September 2009 interview with ABC's George Stephanopolous.
While it is difficult indeed to predict the fate of forced purchase of health insurance, the abrupt dismissal of a 71 to 29 percent vote in Missouri appears on the surface to equate to "whistling by the cemetery" or unwarranted arrogance by the administration. That the path and its assorted detours to enact the health care legislation was a bumpy and unpopular journey from start to finish invokes sarcasm akin to, "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"
From the beginning, health care legislation held a much loftier priority among the legislative and executive branch than with the people — public opinion favored the economy and jobs at 45 percent, government spending at 21 with health care at only 20 percent — 1 in 5. Additionally, when a CNN poll and a joint survey by Kaiser Foundation, ABC and USA Today found that 8 of 10 Americans were satisfied with their health care--where was the impetus for haste?
Further, despite enjoying a 59 vote majority in the House and a veto proof majority in the Senate for the first year, the leadership had to resort to intimidation and bribes to influence (buy) the votes of individual members of Congress to move the legislation forward. In the Senate bill alone, Nebraska, Florida, North Dakota, Louisiana and Montana were granted considerations not universal to all states, leaving a bipartisan bad taste in the public mouth.
The sheer size of the House and Senate bills (final combined total 2409 pages), coupled with the urgency of pushing it through for signature, made it all too obvious that few if any members had read the legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi let this cat out of the bag by observing "We have to pass the health care bill so you will know what is in it" — an example of rank condescension or an incredible case of "hoof in mouth disease."
The underlying subterfuge in passing the legislation along with the unsubtle assuming ignorance of the individual voter has turned off more constituents than expected. For example, how many believe that 30 million people can be added to the health care rolls at a lower cost than before? And, is being taxed higher in 2011 for health care that will not be realized until 2014 not analogous to making payments on an automobile for three years before taking possession?
The administration may be correct in assuming the courts will adhere to the federal government trumping states rights in the issue of individual purchase of health insurance — the Supreme Court tally will be 5-4 either way. Nevertheless, to ignore or dismiss the stated will of the people is a recipe for disaster at the polls. From the outset, the majority of the electorate has been opposed not only to the health care legislation but also to the manner in which it has been force fed in the worst "government knows best" tradition.
Come November, the electorate may well deliver this message from the Declaration of Independence to the Congress and to the president: "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed."
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.