Speaking on Fox News last night, right-wing Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) claimed that health care reform is unconstitutional:
It is not within our power as members of Congress, it’s not within the enumerated powers of the Constitution, for us to design and create a national takeover of health care. Nor is it within our ability to be able to delegate that responsibility to the executive.
Bachmann, however, is wrong about both the contents of the health care plan and the requirements of the Constitution. There is nothing in any of the health care bills under consideration which resembles a “national takeover of health care.” Conservatives like to use this language when referring to the public health option. Like other insurers, the public option would collect premiums from people who choose to buy into it, and then spend those premiums to insure these participants.
Had Bachmann bothered to read Article I of the Constitution before going on Fox, she would have learned that Congress has the power to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises” and to “provide for….the general welfare of the United States.” Rather than itemizing specific subject matters, such as health care, which Congress is allowed to spend money on, the framers chose instead to give Congress a broad mandate to spend money in ways that promote the “general welfare.”
It’s unclear what the basis is for Bachmann’s claim that the public option is an unconstitutional delegation of power to the Executive. There is a 74 year-old decision — decided by the same right-wing Supreme Court which believed most of the New Deal to be unconstitutional — which holds that Congress could not simply grant President Roosevelt nearly limitless authority to do whatever he wanted in order to prevent “unfair competition.” But no one has proposed giving President Obama similarly unchecked authority over health care. Rather, pages 116–128 of the House bill that Bachmann will vote on provide extremely detailed instructions explaining how the Executive Branch must manage a public health plan.
It’s important to note just how radical Bachmann’s theory of the Constitution is. If Congress does not have the power to create a modest public option which competes with private health plans in the marketplace, then it certainly does not have the authority to create Medicare. Similarly, Congress’ power to spend money to benefit the general welfare is the basis for Social Security, federal education funding, Medicaid, and veterans benefits such as the VA health system and the GI Bill. All of these programs would cease to exist in Michele Bachmann’s America.