Robert Pear’s article in the NY Times this weekend missed a key point about the Administration’s legal defense of the individual mandate, which hinges on the government’s power to collect taxes. Jim Hufford breaks it down:
[Even if] the commerce clause argument gives the mandate’s challengers a leg to stand on, the taxing and spending clause does not. Congress’s power of taxation is limited only by the requirement that any tax laid be conducive to the general welfare; and Congress decides whether a tax is conducive the general welfare. Pear’s article is fine up to this point. But then we get this:
Opponents contend that the ‘minimum coverage provision’ is unconstitutional because it exceeds Congress’s power to regulate commerce.
And that’s followed by Orrin Hatch and various other conservative politicians’ statements about mandates exceeding the commerce power, followed by the administration’s response to the commerce clause arguments. But not another word about the taxing power.
And that’s the problem. The article makes it sound like the administration has the upper hand on the taxing clause (a.k.a., the “general welfare clause”) argument, but the challengers are still in the fight and coming out swinging with their commerce clause argument. But it’s not really like that. Because you can’t answer a general welfare clause argument with a commerce clause argument. And if the government wins on either issue, the fight is over.
What’s more, not only does the article fail to alert readers on that decisive point, it also glides right by this essential observation: that the challengers have no legal argument at all to dispute the validity of the mandate as an exercise of the taxing power.
It’s as if the administration is arguing that Congress can get 2 by adding 1 + 1 or 3 + -1, and the challengers are responding that negative numbers don’t count.
Now that’s good blogging by Jim and very unfair of me to quote almost his whole post. In my defense, I couldn’t find a good place to break it up (mea culpa, Jim).