Sen. Sanders: Constitutional Authority for Congress’ Health Insurance Mandate ‘Probably’ Same As Medicare

December 23, 2009 - 5:18 PM
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told CNSNews.com that the constitutional provision that empowers the government to run Medicare is "probably" where Congress gets the authority to require Americans to buy health insurance, as the current health care bills would mandate.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

(CNSNews.com) – Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told CNSNews.com that the constitutional provision that empowers the government to run Medicare and Medicaid is “probably” where Congress gets the authority to require Americans to buy health insurance, as both the Senate and House health care bills would mandate.
 
However, Sanders did not specify which constitutional provision to which he was referring, and did not answer if there was a limit to Congress’ power to mandate that Americans buy any product or service, before entering an elevator in the U.S. Capitol.
 
CNSNews.com asked Senator Sanders: “Where in the Constitution does Congress get the authority for a health insurance mandate?”
 
Sanders, a self-described socialist, said: “Where in the Constitution? Probably the same place that comes Medicare and Medicaid and the CHIP Program and the Veterans Administration, and the health care programs that we’ve been doing for many, many decades.”  
 

 
The individual health insurance mandate contained in the Senate health reform bill would force all Americans to have some form of government-approved health insurance or pay an excise tax penalty ranging between $500 and $1,500 per year.
 
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, such as Sanders, 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 CNSNews.com and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) follows below:
 
CNSNews.com: “Where in the Constitution does Congress get the authority for a health insurance mandate?”
 
Senator Sanders: “Where in the Constitution? Probably the same place that comes Medicare and Medicaid and the CHIP Program and the Veterans Administration, and the health care programs that we’ve been doing for many, many decades.” 
 
CNSNews.com:  “Is there a limit to that authority? ...”

As this story went to press, it was reported that the Senate had rejected along partisan lines, 60-39, a Republican measure to examine whether the health care mandate requiring Americans to purchase health insurance is constitutional.