Sen. Conrad ‘Assumes’ Constitution’s Commerce Clause Gives Congress Power To Mandate Buying Health Insurance

December 23, 2009 - 3:49 PM
Senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told CNSNews.com that he assumes the Commerce clause of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to require that Americans buy health insurance, although he was not certain.

Senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)

(CNSNews.com) - Senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told CNSNews.com that he does not know specifically where in the Constitution Congress is given the authority to require that Americans buy health insurance, as mandated in both the Senate and House health care bills, but Conrad said he assumes the power is granted through the Constitution’s Commerce clause.
 
At the Capitol on Tuesday, CNSNews.com asked Senator Conrad: “Could you specifically say where in the Constitution does Congress get the authority to mandate that individuals get health insurance?”
 
Conrad said: “No, but I’ll refer you to the legal counsel for the Senate and they’re the ones that lead there as the full legal basis for the individual mandate -- and I assume it’s in the Commerce clause.”
 

 
The Commerce clause, found in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, states that Congress has the power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among several States, and with the Indian tribes."
 
CNSNews.com also asked Conrad whether he thought the health insurance mandate would survive a constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court.
 
“You know, I'm not a lawyer,” said Conrad. “So, I’m not an expert on the constitutional issue. That’s not my committee’s jurisdiction. So, I know that attorneys who have looked at it believe that it’s fully constitutional. But I’m not, I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t, I can’t pass judgment on that based on my own legal analysis.”
 
The Senate health care legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is 2,078 pages long and is estimated to cost -- over 10 years, with benefits starting in 2014 – at least $1.8 trillion.  Senators are expected to cast their votes on the bill on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, starting at 8:00AM.
 
The legislation is expected to pass given that Democrats hold a 60-vote majority in the Senate (this includes two Independents who caucus with the Democrats). There are 40 Republicans in the Senate, and they are all expected to vote against the sweeping legislation. After the first of the year, Congress will return and try to reconcile the Senate bill with the House version.
 
While the legislation is expected to pass in the Senate, it is unpopular with the public, garnering the support of barely 40 percent of Americans, according to recent national polls.
 
Those numbers prompted Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele to accuse Congress of “flipping the bird” to the American people.
 
“This is a bad bill, it is bad, certainly for individuals and enough is enough,” Steele said in a conference call on Monday, Dec. 21. “I am tired of Congress thumbing its nose and flipping a bird to the American people. I’m tired of this Congress thinking it knows better than me and my family how to provide for our health care now and in the future. I’m tired of this Congress not listening to me and to the American people – to all of us.”
 
In 1994, when the Clinton administration attempted to push a health care reform plan through a Democratic Congress that also mandated every American buy health insurance, the Congressional Budget Office determined that the government had never ordered Americans to buy anything.

“The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States,” the CBO analysis said. “An individual mandate would have two features that, in combination, would make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.”
 
A transcript of the exchange between Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and CNSNews.com follows below:
 
CNSNews.com: “I just want to get your comment on whether you think it [an individual mandate to buy health insurance] would actually survive a constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court or not?”
 
Senator Conrad: “You know, I’m not a lawyer.”
 
CNSNews.com: “Right.”
 
Senator Conrad: “So, I’m not an expert on the constitutional issue. That’s not my committee’s jurisdiction. So, I know that attorneys who have looked at it believe that it’ s fully constitutional. But I’m not, I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t, I can’t pass judgment on that based on my own legal analysis.”
 
CNSNews.com: “Could you specifically say where in the Constitution does Congress get the authority to mandate that individuals get health insurance?”
 
Senator Conrad: “No, but I’ll refer you to the legal counsel for the Senate and they’re the ones that lead there as the full legal basis for the individual mandate -- and I assume it’s in the Commerce clause.”