Sen. Burris Cites Unwritten Constitutional 'Health' Provision to Justify Forcing Americans to Buy Health Insurance

November 4, 2009 - 4:25 PM
Asked what specific part of the Constitution authorizes Congress to require that individuals purchase health insurance, Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) referred to the phrase in the Preamble instructing the federal government to "promote the general welfare," which Burris apparently interprets to include Americans' "health."
(CNSNews.com) - When asked by CNSNews.com what specific part of the Constitution authorizes Congress to mandate that individuals must purchase health insurance, Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) pointed to the part of the Constitution that he says authorizes the federal government "to provide for the health, welfare and the defense of the country."  In fact, the word "health" appears nowhere in the Constitution.

“Well, that’s under certainly the laws of the--protect the health, welfare of the country," said Burris. "That’s under the Constitution. We’re not even dealing with any constitutionality here. Should we move in that direction? What does the Constitution say? To provide for the health, welfare and the defense of the country.”

James O’Connor, Burris’s communications director, later told CNSNews.com that although the word “health” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution, the senator was referring to the Preamble of the Constitution which says the following:
 
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
 

 
Burris’s comment “indicates his belief that the term ‘general welfare’ can be interpreted to include the health and well-being of American citizens, and health care in general,” said O’Connor.
 
In the interview, which took place on Oct. 21, CNSNews.com asked Burris, “Federally, if you look at it from a federal standpoint, what area, specifically of the Constitution, would give Congress the power to mandate an individual to have health insurance?”

“Well, that’s under certainly the laws of the--protect the health, welfare of the country," Burris said in response. "That’s under the Constitution. We’re not even dealing with any constitutionality here. Should we move in that direction? What does the Constitution say? To provide for the health, welfare and the defense of the country.”
 
When asked if he was familiar with the provision of the Senate Finance Committee version of the bill that mandates that individuals purchase health insurance, Burris said he "may not have covered" that piece of the legislation. 

CNSNews.com asked Burris, “Do you support Congress mandating the public, the American public to get health insurance?”
 
He said: “The Congress mandating the public to get health insurance?

CNSNews.com said: “Through the Baucus bill [the Finance Committee bill] right now. Also, the House bill has the mandate.”

"No," said Burris. "What is happening is, is that the public will still have the options of going to an insurance company and what we’re saying is that we want the public to have a choice to get health insurance. So, in terms of what we have now, if you’ve got your insurance with a private provider--a private doctor--you can keep your private provider. We’re dealing with those persons who are either not able to get employment--insurance through their employer--or who can’t get insurance through, or if they're small business, they can get insurance through their small business through an option arrangement. But there wouldn’t be any type of a--Well, in terms of a requirement for individuals, we’re hoping that everyone within--will receive insurance. We’ve got the 48 million people who are without it.”

While both House and Senate versions of the health care bill mandate that individuals must purchase health insurance--a provision supported by  President Barack Obama--Sen. Orrin Hatch, a longtime member of the Judiciary Committee has questioned the constitutionality of the mandate.
 
“I think there’s a real constitutional issue there,” Hatch (R-Utah) recently told CNSNews.com. 
 
“You know, the illustration they give all the time is: Well, states require people to buy auto insurance. Yeah, they do, if they want to drive,” said Hatch. “But here would be the first time where our [federal] government would demand that people buy something that they may or may not want.”
 
“And, you know, if that’s the case, then we didn’t need a 'Cash for Clunkers,'” said Hatch. “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. Now, there may be some gimmicky way that they can do this, but I can’t think of a gimmicky way that would be constitutionally justified.”
 
CNSNews.com also asked Sen. Burris, “If a person doesn’t want health insurance, do you think they should be required by the government to actually have to get it?”
 
“Under state law, we have every one required to have automobile insurance,” said Burris. “Now, think about that. And so, under this here, we’re providing in the legislation where every one would be able to acquire health insurance.”

If they don’t get it, then that would--certainly they’re trying to provide some type of a provision for them in case they're sick so that they will be covered and they won’t be a burden on the system. So, that’s the same thing proportionally to automobile insurance. I mean, it’s comparable,” said Burris.
 
Below is the complete transcript of the interview with Senator Burris (D-Ill.): 
 
CNSNews.com:  “Do you support Congress mandating the public, the American public, to get health insurance?
 
Senator Burris: “The Congress mandating the public to get health insurance?”
 
CNSNews.com: “Through the Baucus bill right now. Also, the House bill has the mandate.”
 
Senator Burris: “No. What is happening is is that the public will still have the options of going to an insurance company and what we’re saying is that we want the public to have a choice to get health insurance. So, in terms of what we have now, if you’ve got your insurance with a private provider--a private doctor--you can keep your private provider. We’re dealing with those persons who are either not able to get employment--insurance through their employer--or who can’t get insurance through, or if their small business, they can get insurance through their small business through an option arrangement. But there wouldn’t be any type of a--Well, in terms of a requirement for individuals, we’re hoping that every one within--will receive insurance. We’ve got the 48 million people who are without it.”
 
CNSNews.com:  “In the Baucus bill--the provision that says if you don’t get health insurance there’s a penalty on your taxes. You’re penalized, I believe it’s up to $1,500 if you don’t actually get insurance--the actual mandate in the bill. Are you familiar with that at all?”

Senator Burris:
“Well, that piece I may not have covered, but the other piece in terms of requiring who pays for what, if the employer pays for an excess of $8,000 in that bill, then, of course, I’ve got problems with that type of a mandate for insurance companies to pay a tax on the excess over the [inaudible] because all they’re going to do is pass it on in premiums charged to the employer or to the insurer, so, I certainly would not support that type of legislation.”
 
CNSNews.com:  “So, in general, if a person doesn’t want health insurance, do you think they should be required by the government to actually have to get it?”
 
Senator Burris: “Under state law, we have every one required to have automobile insurance. Now, think about that. And so under this here, we’re providing in the legislation where every one would be able to acquire health insurance. If they don’t get it, then that would--certainly they’re trying to provide some type of a provision for them in case they're sick so that they will be covered and they won’t be a burden on the system. So, that’s the same thing proportionally to automobile insurance. I mean, it’s comparable.”
 
CNSNews.com:  “Federally, if you look at it from a federal standpoint, what area specifically of the Constitution would give Congress the power to mandate an individual to have health insurance?”
 
Senator Burris: “Well, that’s under certainly the laws of the--protect the health, welfare of the country. That’s under the Constitution. We’re not even dealing with any constitutionality here. Should we move in that direction? What does the Constitution say? To provide for the health, welfare and the defense of the country.”

CNSNews.com:  “Do you think there’s any limit to that? Congressionally, is there any limit to what Congress can require someone, an individual to do?”

Senator Burris:
“Before we get into all of that, just rest assured, we need health insurance for every one that’s insured. We need health insurance where it’s affordable. We need health insurance that can be--that can cost affordable for all the insured and that the insurance companies will not be making excessive profits. That’s what we’re talking about. Okay? All right?”