A legitimate criticism of Republicans regarding Obamacare is that they have not talked enough about how they would improve access to health insurance and reduce health care costs if the law is overturned by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress. A legitimate criticism of Democrats is that they have not drawn a clear line around the state’s power to compel particular individual behaviors should the law be upheld and maintained. And that is really what this debate is about.
Remember that in the Democratic primary race in 2007 and 2008, Barack Obama opposed an individual mandate. At a South Carolina debate, he said, “A mandate means that in some fashion, everybody will be forced to buy health insurance. ... But I believe the problem is not that folks are trying to avoid getting health care. The problem is they can’t afford it.”
Note his use of the word “force.” The issue, as he stated, was the use of state power to force people to do something the state concluded was good for them.
Once in office, he either changed his mind or revealed his true plan and backed an individual mandate. But his reversal did not negate the fundamental question: is it a violation of individual liberty for the state to compel people to buy a private consumer product?
The President and his party continue to maintain that it is not. They say the state may do so because it is in the public interest and it is the best way to solve a difficult policy problem. What they avoid addressing is the obvious follow-up: Then where does the government’s power to pursue specific policy objectives through individual mandates end?
They avoid the question because their answer is so repugnant to the American ideal of personal freedom: The power does not end. The state, in their view, may use “force” (Obama’s own word) to compel people to undertake actions the state deems good for them (not good for the state, which is a different test).
The Supreme Court is expected to decide that question today. If the justices strike down the mandate, Republicans need to tell the people how they will improve health care and insurance in this country. If the justices uphold the mandate, then the people must immediately begin work on a constitutional amendment to restore the liberty that was just revoked.