Dueling GOP views on health reform constitutionality

Nowhere in the Constitution is Congress empowered to require Americans to buy health insurance, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) charged today.

“I am seriously concerned that the Democrats’ health reform bill violates the Constitution of the United States of America,” Ensign said in a statement. “Is it really constitutional for this body to tell all Americans that they MUST buy health insurance coverage?”

U.S. Sen. John Ensign
U.S. Sen. John Ensign

Two thoughts: First, whatever Congress is empowered to do is not, ultimately, for Congress to decide — that’s a job for the courts. (And you can bet that there will be no absence of lawsuits if the individual mandate survives the process to become law.)

And second, why should Congress tolerate a system under which folks without insurance can still receive emergency care on everyone else’s dime? Indeed, even former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a thoracic surgeon, has said that requiring everyone to buy into coverage pools is “about the only way” to fix the nation’s dysfunctional health care system.

“We have 46 million people who don’t have insurance out there,” Frist told the Fox Business Network in September. “Somebody’s going to have to pay for that. If they can pay for it, they should be responsible to paying for it. And, if not, there are going to be taxes, excise taxes, user taxes on companies like Aetna, on individuals.

“And I’m hard-core Republican,” Frist added.

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