Sen. Ben Nelson: ‘I’m Not Going to Be Able to Answer That Question’ of Where Constitution Authorizes Congress to Force Americans to Buy Health Insurance

November 11, 2009 - 3:16 PM
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) told CNSNews.com that because he is not a constitutional scholar he was "not going to be able to answer that question" of where specifically the Constitution authorizes Congress to mandate that individuals purchase health insurance.
(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) told CNSNews.com that because he is not a constitutional scholar he was “not going to be able to answer that question” of where specifically the Constitution authorizes Congress to mandate that individuals purchase health insurance.
 
“Specifically, where in the Constitution does Congress get its authority to mandate that individuals purchase health insurance?” CNSNews.com asked Nelson.
 
“Well, you know, I don’t know that I’m a constitutional scholar,” said Nelson. So, I, I’m not going to be able to answer that question.”
 
The senator then turned away to answer another reporter’s question.



Both House and Senate versions of the health care bill would require that Americans buy 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 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.”
 
Here is the transcript of CNSNews.com’s interview with Sen. Ben Nelson (D.-Neb.):
 
CNSNews.com: “Specifically, where in the Constitution does Congress get its authority to mandate that individuals purchase health, health insurance?”
 
Sen. Ben Nelson (D.-Neb.): “Well, you know, I don’t know that I’m a constitutional scholar. So, I, I’m not going to be able to answer that question.”