(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said he does not have “any idea” where in the Constitution Congress was finding the authority to mandate that individuals purchase a health insurance plan.
“I don’t have any idea,” he told CNSNews.com in the Capitol building last week. “We’ll just listen to the debate this afternoon.”
Lugar was on his way to take part in a series of procedural votes last Wednesday that would advance the Senate health-care bill toward final passage, which ultimately came on Christmas Eve. One of the votes was a constitutional “point of order” raised by Sens. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), which would force Democrats to answer whether they believed an individual mandate was constitutional.
Lugar, who was asked -- “Where does Congress find the authority to mandate that people purchase health insurance?” -- is one of several Republicans who have told CNSNews.com they do not see where in the Constitution the authority for creating such a mandate exists.
“That will be one of the questions raised by, I think, Senator Ensign or another senator,” Lugar said in response to the question,
The Senate bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, contains a historic provision that requires every American to purchase health insurance either individually or through their employer. If they do not, they can be penalized with a surtax ranging from $500 to nearly $1,500 per year.
Arguing the point of order on the Senate floor, Nevada’s Ensign told his colleagues: “I am incredibly concerned that the Democrats’ proposed individual mandate provision takes away too much freedom and choice from Americans across the country.
“As an American, I felt the obligation to stand up for the individual freedom of every citizen to make their own decision on this issue. I don’t believe Congress has the legal authority to force this mandate on its citizens.”
South Carolina’s DeMint, meanwhile, said the requirement was outside the constitutional purview of Congress.
“Forcing every American to purchase a product is absolutely inconsistent with our Constitution and the freedoms our Founding Fathers hoped to protect,” he said.
In 1994, when the Clinton administration tried to pass its own health care reform legislation, also with an individual mandate included, the Congressional Budget Office reported that it was “unprecedented” in legislative history.
“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. “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.”
While the Clinton-era push for health-care reform ultimately failed, Democrats last week unanimously voted down the point of order questioning the constitutionality of the mandate, and subsequently voted along party lines (60-39, with one Republican absent), on Christmas Eve to pass the bill.
It now faces a will have to be merged with the House health-care reform bill that narrowly passed in November -- the Affordable Health Care for America Act. A select committee from both chambers will negotiate a compromise, and the result, called the “conference report” then must be passed back through both chambers of Congress before President Obama could sign it into law.