Sen. Akaka Says ‘I’m Not Aware’ of Constitution Giving Congress Authority to Make Individuals Buy Health Insurance
November 11, 2009 - 6:59 PMSen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) says he is "not aware" of the Constitution giving Congress the authority to make individuals purchase health insurance, as the health care bills in both the House and Senate require.
When CNSNews.com asked whether the Constitution gives Congress the authority to make Americans buy health insurance, Sen. Akaka said: “I’m not aware of that, let me put it that way. But what we’re trying to do is to provide for people who have needs and that’s where the accessibility comes in, and one of the goals that we’re trying to present here is to make it accessible.”
When asked if there was a specific part of the Constitution that gives Congress the authority to make people buy health insurance, Akaka said: “Not in particular with health insurance. It’s not covered in that respect. But in ways to help citizens in our country to live a good life, let me say it that way, is what we’re trying to do, and in this case, we’re trying to help them with their health.”
Both House and Senate health care bills mandate that people buy health insurance, facing a financial penalty if they do not. Akaka said this mandate should not be looked upon as a penalty.
“It’s an idea of making it possible for people and this is what it’s all about,” he said. “I don’t look upon that as a penalty but as a way of getting help with health insurance.”
In 1994, when Congress was considering a universal health care plan proposed by then-President Clinton that included a mandate that all individuals purchase health insurance, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) studied the issue and discovered that the federal government had never in the history of the United States mandated that individuals purchase any good or service.
“A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action,” said the CBO. “The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.”
In an analysis published this July, the CBO said that an attempt to justify a mandate that people buy health insurance by using the Commerce Clause—which gives Congress the power to regulate commerce “among the several states”—raises a “novel issue.”
“Whether such a requirement would be constitutional under the Commerce Clause is perhaps the most challenging question posed by such a proposal, as it is a novel issue whether Congress may use this clause to require an individual to purchase a good or a service,” said the CBO.
In a recent interview with CNSNews.com, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), a longtime member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that it was “not constitutionally sound” for Congress to mandate that individuals buy health insurance.
“But here would be the first time where our [federal] government would demand that people buy something that they may or may not want,” said Hatch. “And, you know, if that’s the case, then we didn’t need a 'Cash for Clunkers,' all we had to do is have the federal government say you all got to buy new cars, no matter how tough it is on you. You know, they could require you to buy anything. And that isn’t America. That’s not freedom. That’s not constitutionally sound.”
Hatch said that if we let the federal government begin forcing us to buy things we may not want to buy without having a clear constitutional justification for doing so “we’ve lost our freedoms, and that means the federal government can do anything it wants to do to us.”
Below is the full transcript of the interview with Senator Akaka (D-Hawaii):
CNSNews.com: “Does the United States Constitution give the United States Congress the authority to mandate individuals to have health insurance, to carry health insurance?
Senator Akaka: “I’m not aware of that, let me put it that way. But what we’re trying to do is to provide for people who have needs and that’s where the accessibility comes in, and one of the goals that we’re trying to present here is to make it accessible.”
CNSNews.com: “In both the House and so far the Senate proposals have the mandate for individuals to get health insurance and I believe if you don’t get health insurance you’re penalized up to $750 per adult by the IRS, if you don’t get health insurance. Do you think that is a good idea or is that a bad idea?”
Senator Akaka: “Well, it’s an idea of making it possible for people, and this is what it’s all about. I don’t look upon that as a penalty but as a way of getting help with health insurance.”
CNSNews.com: “Is there any specific area of the Constitution that would give Congress the authority to be able to mandate individuals to have to purchase health insurance?”
Senator Akaka: “Not in particular with health insurance. It’s not covered in that respect. But in ways to help citizens in our country to live a good life, let me say it that way, is what we’re trying to do, and in this case, we’re trying to help them with their health.”
CNSNews.com: “If a bill comes to the floor with that actual mandate in it, the final bill, after both proposals are merged, would you support that bill?”
Senator Akaka: “Well, I’m inclined to support the bill that’s there now and reserve, you know, the right to look at it up to the last moment and see what happens. For Hawaii, it – we’ve been able to have it support what we’re doing in Hawaii. We think we have a good plan in Hawaii too. So, that’s where we are on this.”