“Don’t give them any ideas” may be one of the most overused phrases, but I think, despite its ubiquity, it sums up today’s Supreme Court decision quite well. And it’s why I disagree slightly–perhaps only rhetorically–with John Steele Gordon’s take on ObamaCare’s survival. John writes that the decision today “greatly expanded the taxing power” of the government by ruling the individual mandate is constitutional as a massive tax. It seems, however, that Congress really does have this expansive taxing power to begin with—John Roberts merely “gave them the idea.” It’s best to think of this less as an unprecedented interpretation of existing law and more as an unprecedented application of existing law.
But nonetheless, John’s point is sound. The Commerce Clause of the Constitution was left intact–but also made virtually irrelevant. What the Supreme Court did today was offer a ludicrously simple—and expensive—way around it. Want to force individuals to do something from which the Constitution protects them? Just add a financial penalty to it. This way, you can increase your control over people and help yourself to some of their cash.
As I wrote earlier, Mitt Romney will make the case that he is standing in ObamaCare’s way. But he can also argue that ObamaCare is just one example of myriad ways the Obama administration plans to exercise its expanded scope of power. Just imagine, Romney might say, what a completely unrestrained second term would look like. The “call everything a tax” idea, in the hands of today’s left, is like those invisible electric fences people use for their pets. Fido–that’s you, America–doesn’t see anything, but he gets a healthy shock whenever he tries to roam free. Pretty soon he learns his lesson.
The “intransigent” Republicans in Congress, targeted relentlessly by the media for refusing to be the tax collectors of the welfare state, can use this line of defense as well: The president and the Democratic Party have just taxed the middle-class for existing. How much cooperation on “raising revenue” would you like us to give them?
Most Americans have trouble imagining the extent to which this can be abused, now that there is precedent floating around. John asks what else the Obama administration could tax, and offers a few possibilities. I say: don’t give them any ideas.