ObamaCare Upheld as a Tax, But It’s Not the End of the World

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are… But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” – Rocky, from Rocky Balboa (2006)

This morning, the United States Supreme Court released its  ruling on the constitutionality of ObamaCare. In a 5-4 decision, the Court found that the individual mandate is constitutional, but only as a tax. Chief Justice John Roberts joined Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor in this majority opinion. Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas dissented, arguing that the entirety of the law was unconstitutional. To put it bluntly, this is a very complicated ruling that few expected in its given form.

Let me give a bit of background on the case. In late March, the Court held oral arguments regarding two cases challenging President Obama’s health care reform law: Florida v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, and National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.

There were four major parts to the overall case. 1.) Does the Anti-Injunction Act preclude the plaintiff’s challenge to the individual mandate? 2.) Is the individual mandate  constitutional under the commerce clause? 3.) Is the individual mandate severable from  the rest of the law, or must the whole law be struck down if  the mandate is unconstitutional? 4.) Does the law violate the basic tenets of federalism by coercing the states into accepting burdensome new Medicaid regulations and requirements, since the law threatens to end all federal funding for Medicaid if they refuse to comply?

The Court ruled that the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply. They ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional under the commerce clause, but NOT under the taxing and spending clause. Since the mandate was upheld under the taxing and spending clause, the issue of severability did not come into play. On the issue of Medicaid, they ruled that the law can offer increased funds to the states in exchange for the new rules and regulations, but it cannot coerce the states into taking the deal by threatening to withhold funds. This is a minor victory for conservatives, although it will likely be overlooked in light of the mandate being upheld.

Here’s my read: Few expected the Court to uphold the mandate as a tax. The fact that a majority ruled that the mandate is unconstitutional under the commerce clause is important, because it finally places a limit on that clause. In terms of precedent, the Court set a very good one with regards to that. Since the Obama administration actively argued before the Court that the mandate was not a tax, this decision comes out of left field. Here’s the relevant portion of the Constitution:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States…

If the mandate had been labeled a tax or argued to be a tax by the Obama administration, this ruling would have been significantly less surprising. As things stand, I disagree with the Court’s majority opinion regarding the general welfare clause, which is the only significant limitation on Congress’s power of taxation beyond common sense, but I’m thankful that they upheld the mandate under that clause instead of the commerce clause. Is it a small victory? Obviously. But it’s an important one, and I have little doubt that the precedent set by it will have important ramifications in future decisions.

Conservatives haven’t been able to trust the Court since the mid-1930s. This is a sad, depressing day that affirms the basic truth that we can only rely on ourselves, and our duly elected representatives. A Supreme Court decision striking down the mandate would have been a convenient shortcut, but we still have options. We must stay on offense. We must push for full repeal.

This isn’t a “long-shot” by any means. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has consistently pushed for full repeal, and the House of Representatives has voted for full repeal several times. They’ll do so again this July. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has pledged that if November brings a Republican majority, the first vote held will be for full repeal. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has sworn that he will issue ObamaCare waivers to all fifty states in the event that he’s elected President, and that he will sign a full repeal law.

So, we have a good shot. No matter what, it’s very likely that the House of Representatives will stay in conservative hands after November. If Romney wins the election, he’ll at least provide the waivers. If conservatives take back the Senate as well, we’ll get full repeal through both chambers of Congress. However, if President Obama wins a second term as President, he’ll veto full repeal. While I’ve never been a big supporter of Mitt Romney, it’s critical that he wins this November, if only for this.

We have to stay on offense. We have to move forward. We have to elect enough conservatives to get full repeal. And once ObamaCare is finally repealed, we have to push for conservative health care reform.

This isn’t the end. The Supreme Court does not have the final say on the Constitution. The people do. So let’s get this done.

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About Daniel Anderson

I am a 21 year old Michigan native completing the final year of my undergraduate education at Hillsdale College. I tend to categorize my political philosophy as "constitutional conservatism." I also advocate free-market economics.
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9 Responses to ObamaCare Upheld as a Tax, But It’s Not the End of the World

  1. Blake Faulkner says:

    Good analysis. You informed me about the nature of the case in a way that other news outlets have not. Also, your emphasis of both the victories and the failures for either side was refreshing, and hardly seen in most journalism. Thanks.

    • danjanderson says:

      Thanks for the compliments, Blake. I’m a big fan of nuance, so I’m glad that this response wasn’t overly simplified.

    • John says:

      Agree great analysis! Question, considering the descision was based on “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States…”, then the previously issued exemptions should be invalidated. Also how do the other exemptions in the act stack up, such as, religious (Muslim) exemptions? Since this was ruled a tax not a mandate, unfailrly imposing a tax anyone not exempted is discrimination.

      • danjanderson says:

        No clue, I’m not an expert on tax policy. Considering that religious organizations are usually tax-exempt, I don’t see a problem with that translating to this law. As for the waivers, I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea, though.

      • John says:

        Howdy Danjanderson,
        If I remember correctly, the Muslim waiver/exemption is not based on an organisiation, but based on faith, therefore I contend that this is religious discrimination against anyone who is not Muslim.

  2. Richard Scarbrough Jr says:

    Interesting article. Rug weavers couldn’t do a better job of dodging the real issues. Insurance costs could be contained with inter-state competition. Insurance companies didn’t like that idea and instead bargained with the STATE to make sure that doesn’t occur. They just signed away their companies. Medical costs could be contained by cutting off the funds from Washington and letting doctors and hospitals compete as all businesses do; in a FREE market. But that’s not the real issue. The real issue? The States just lost their sovereignty. The STATE can now tell you to ‘sit down and shut up’ OR pay the tax. The gov’t can (and will) tax you for ANYTHING at whatever rate they wish and you have no constitutional safeguards standing in the way. Congrats America. Enjoy it.

    As far as voting for Romney? We’ve seen too many Republicans ACT as if they’re conservatives. I don’t trust this guy any further than I can throw him. If a candidate doesn’t live and breath small government principles and have proven it BEFORE asking for higher office, they’re liars and don’t deserve my time or vote. I’ve been a registered Republican my entire life. That just changed today. I didn’t think I’d EVER say this; it’s time to write in Ron Paul. As for those who are concerned about his ability/views on foregin policy? That’s a moot point if this country implodes first.

    • danjanderson says:

      I don’t blame you for not trusting Romney, but here’s the crucial distinction between he and President Obama: If a full repeal bill lands on President Obama’s desk, he will veto it. There’s zero doubt about this. If it lands on Romney’s desk, he’ll sign it.

      • Marie says:

        Voting for Ron Paul is a vote for Obama, its merely splitting the conservative vote. Do so at your own peril.

    • John says:

      I understand how you feel. Right now all of us who understand that our Republic is already sliding down a jagged rock cliff need to inform everyone about the bottomless pit related to the economy. No Federal budget, out of control spending, out of control borrowing, moral and social degradation. I personally do not like Romney, but I will vote ABO, and vote for Romney if he has the best chance to win.

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