Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) — the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee — supported the individual mandate in 1993, when he, along with Sen. John Chafee (R-RI), proposed an alternative to President Bill Clinton’s health care initiative that required every American to purchase health insurance coverage. He supported the mandate when he co-sponsored the Wyden-Bennet health care plan in 2007. And he endorsed the policy again in June of 2009, when he told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace that there was bipartisan agreement that individuals should take responsibility for their own health care costs. But as the Senate Finance Committee prepared to release its health care bill, Grassley started arguing that the mandate is an “unprecedented” intrusion into the rights of the individual. In September of 2009, Grassley said that he was “very reluctant to go along with an individual mandate” since it would impose “a federal penalty against people who don’t have health insurance.”
Well today, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Grassley about his evolving position. The senator admitted that he had supported the mandate in the past, before he knew it was unconstitutional:
GRASSLEY: If it was unconstitutional today, it was unconstitutional in 1993, but I don’t think anybody gave it much thought until three or four months ago when you start looking at what constitutional lawyers say about it because constitutional lawyers wouldn’t have been looking at the mandate for health insurance until it became an issue and it just became a issue lately. And so I think that’s the legitimacy of it being considered unconstitutional.
This is a fairly silly argument, particularly because constitutional lawyers believe that the health care mandate is as constitutional today as it was in 1993. “The mandate is lawful and clearly so,” this American Constitution Society brief argues, “pursuant either to Congress‟ authority to “regulate commerce among the several states,” or to its authority to “lay and collect taxes to provide for the General Welfare.”
In fact, even Mitt Romney (sometimes) agrees. Here he is Tuesday night describing the mandate in his Massachusetts reform plan as the ultimate conservative principle: “[R]ight now in this country, people that don’t have health insurance go to the hospital if they get a serious illness, and they get treated for free by government. My plan says no, they can’t do that. No more free riders. People have to take personal responsibility. I consider it a conservative plan.”