Home > Politics > On Mandates and Partisan Worldviews

On Mandates and Partisan Worldviews

Much has been said and written about the contemptuous oral arguments that were made last week in regards to the “individual mandate” aspect of the Affordable Care Act (that’s Obamacare for those of you who don’t know). Now, I’m not a Constitutional law expert, nor am I experienced in the health care field (I promise to learn more about both), so maybe my opinion is less valid than many that have already stated their cases. And for the record, I don’t personally know if the ACA will work or if it’s good legislation (due to that lack of experience in the health care field). But if you bear with me, I want to walk through some of the facts here and see if I don’t wind up making some sense.

Justice Kennedy, considered a swing vote, stated that the mandate for citizens to purchase health care would “fundamentally change the relationship between the individual and the state.” Justice Roberts continued down that train of thought by asking if the government can make citizens buy a cell phone to facilitate the use of emergency services.

Color me stupid, but I don’t understand the “fundamental change.”  The government already forces me to purchase services–even from private companies. I am forced to pay taxes. Those taxes pay private companies to carry out a number of services that I do not directly have any say in, ranging from military contractors to private intelligence agencies to the construction companies that build a road. By virtue of the tax money I provide, a number of services that the government has deemed essential are funded by me and provided to me.

Now it is easy to point out that paying taxes to the government is different than paying a fee to a health insurance company.  However, given that the government transfers my tax payments to private companies on a regular basis, it seems to me that the primary difference is simply that of who collects the money.

And this brings me to the second half of my title, the partisan worldview.  Ignoring for a second that the health insurance mandate has been supported by numerous Republicans in the past, it seems to me that the Republicans and the conservatives have now placed themselves into a strange ideological box on the topic:

If the government can provide necessary services itself with public money, and if the government can use public money to purchase services from private entities, then the Republican argument against the mandate seems to indicate that the law is unconstitutional not because it is government overreach, but because the government is not involved enough. It may seem like I’m playing at semantics here, but I am not.

If the government were paying for this service through a federal tax, its constitutionality would not be up for debate (though Republicans and other conservatives would hate it even more).  By streamlining the payment process, and removing government as a financial intermediary between the citizens and the insurance companies, this has become an argument not about taxation, but about being compelled to enter a private market by the government. And so, small government Republicans have found the means to argue against the constitutionality of a law on the basis that the government itself does not collect the money and instead outsources a task to private companies.

It seems strange, when you think about it, that additional government intervention would satiate the conservative argument against constitutionality, but these are the mental games you must play when partisan politics are the dominant force instead of ideas and reason.

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