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  • Judge Vinson's Tough Love for State and Federal Lawmakers

    The principal issue addressed in Federal District Court Judge Roger Vinson’s ruling Monday on the case of Florida vs. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is the application of the Constitution’s “interstate commerce” clause with respect to Obamacare’s individual mandate. But two other parts of his ruling send an important judicial “tough love” message to state and federal lawmakers that the courts cannot—and should not attempt to—solve their political and policy problems for them.

    In the case of state lawmakers, Judge Vinson dismissed the states’ argument that the federal government was unconstitutionally “commandeering” state resources when Congress included in Obamacare provisions that will have the effect of increasing state costs for Medicaid. He pointed out that participation in the Medicaid program is an entirely voluntary choice by a state, under which the state agrees to accept federal funding in exchange for abiding by federal rules for how those funds are spent. Any time a state decides that the requirements attached by Congress to federal Medicaid funds are too onerous, the state is free to terminate its participation in the program. Simply put, once a state no longer takes federal Medicaid funding, it no longer has to abide by federal Medicaid rules, and there is nothing the federal government can do about it.

    Indeed, we previously noted that one effect of Obamacare’s Medicaid provisions might be to push some states past the “tipping point,” causing them to terminate their Medicaid programs.

    The fact that either option—continuing to participate, or terminating participation, in Medicaid—entails significant political costs and difficulties does not create grounds for asking the courts to relieve state lawmakers of their obligation to make difficult decisions. Governors and state legislators are elected by their constituents to make decisions, and they can’t just pass off to courts, or someone else, decisions within the scope of their authority that happen to be difficult or unpalatable.

    Judge Vinson also sent the same message to Congress in ruling on the severability of the individual mandate from the rest of Obamacare. Citing the defense’s own arguments, he noted that numerous other provisions of Obamacare will clearly not have the effects intended by the authors of the legislation in the absence of the individual mandate provision. Having determined that Congress does not have the authority under the Constitution to impose an individual mandate to buy health insurance, Judge Vinson further determined that the only way to preserve the rest of the legislation would be to rewrite large parts of it to accommodate removal of the mandate—an exercise that inherently entails making numerous policy decisions.

    He correctly concluded that it is the job of Congress, not the courts, to make such policy decisions and that therefore any rewriting of Obamacare to ensure it passes constitutional muster is a job for Congress. As with state lawmakers, the judge’s message to federal lawmakers is that they cannot pass off to the courts decisions within their scope of their authority simply because those decisions are difficult or politically contentious. Consequently, Judge Vinson ruled that because the individual mandate provisions could not, as a practical or legal matter, be severed from the rest of Obamacare, the entire legislation is voided by its constitutional defect and that it is up to Congress to decide whether or not it will enact replacement legislation that is within the scope of its constitutional authority.

    Judge Vinson’s ruling puts the issue of health care reform squarely back where it belongs—in the hands of Congress and state lawmakers. As the judge correctly noted, there are many constitutionally acceptable ways for state and federal lawmakers to improve the health system—many of which Heritage health policy experts have described in great detail over the years.

    The fight over Obamacare, both before and since enactment, has triggered an important rethinking of America’s health care system. The issue was never just the status quo versus Obamacare. It was always the status quo versus Obamacare’s government central-planning approach versus alternative reform approaches based on creating better market incentives for increasing coverage, controlling costs, and identifying and rewarding value in health insurance and medical care.

    Now is the time for federal and state lawmakers to look to those other approaches that the advocates of Obamacare systematically worked to exclude from the health care debate over the last two years. It is among those alternative ideas that lawmakers will find the right policy solutions for America’s health system.

    Posted in Obamacare [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to Judge Vinson's Tough Love for State and Federal Lawmakers

    1. Mike, Wichita Falls says:

      Judge Vinson has been called an activist for his ruling, but an activist judge would have done the things you pointed out such as resolving political issues between the states and the fed. Instead, he only reminded the fed of their limited Constitutional role.

      A parent can allow their child to struggle, make mistakes, learn and grow into a responsible adult or solve their problems for them, stunt their growth and unleash a problem on society. Thanks for being a good "parent", Judge Vinson.

    2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Judge Vinson’s Tough Love for State and Federal Lawmakers | The Foundry: Conservative Policy News. -- Topsy.com

    3. Jill, California says:

      Perhaps it's time that we the people take the decisions away from our government too. Perhaps we should consider free-market solutions that return us to the days when we dealt directly with our doctors and didn't have insurance companies interfering with our care. Blue Shield, for example, is raising rates so dramatically that I may soon join the ranks of the uninsured, because I can't afford the extortion that Blue Shield is demanding. I want a plan that protects against catastrophic emergencies but lets me deal directly with my doctors otherwise. It will be most cost-effective for everyone.

    4. Rick Pfizenmayer, St says:

      While I applaud Judge Vinson's extensive and insightful opinion, it is unfortunate that he did not delve a bit deeper into the argument that the Medicaid provisions of Obamacare exceed Congress' power under the Commerce Clause.

      In addition to the Spending Clause/"commandeering" argument, there is a substantial argument having to do with the appropriate balance of power between the federal and state governments that would be worthy of the courts' attention.

      Despite court opinions to the contrary, total federal power is neither mandated nor contemplated by the Commerce Clause. Quite simply, the commerce power is limited by the constitutionally established sovereignty and integrity of the states.

      Forty-three (yes 43) years ago I wrote a law review note on a case (Maryland v. Wirtz) involving Congress' use of the Commerce Clause to regulate state activities. If the courts had adopted the analysis suggested in the article, the federal government's use of the Commerce Clause to implement social policy would not have reached the current critical stage where our very principles of federalism are in danger.

      At its core, the article argues that the commerce power, like the taxing power, is inherently limited so that it cannot be used to destroy state sovereignty. The article contains an extensive review of Commerce Clause cases up to that time and it is my hope that some court would pick up on this thread as Obamacare cases work their way up to the Supreme Court. The article may be found at 66 U. Mich. Law Review 750 (1968).

      The scope of the federal government's imposition on state sovereignty in Obama's health reform legislation is breathtaking and challenges to it offer a chance to get off the path opened up by Wickard v. Filburn. Hopefully, the judicial process can bring about a restoration of the intended constitutional balance of power between the federal government and the states.

    5. Ron Fallona says:

      The Obama Administration seem to be ignoring this. No appeal has been filed. No request for stay. Have any of the litigants asked for Judge Vinson to hold the administration in Contempt?

    6. flicka47 , Californi says:

      But Jill, California just passed it's own version on Oh,Bummer Care. Your policy now has to cover prostate surgery, while your 74 yrold grandfather's has to include maternity care for you…

      You're right though, a catastrophic policy with a HSA is the cheapest and best way to go. But the State doesn't want that…

      Also think about this. The State of California already has 25% of the population on medicaid. If it increases another 30%, that's 55% of the state!

      How do you think the State plans on paying for that?

      (You're right! Higher premiums for the rest of us!!)

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