Mary Landrieu, Constitutional Scholar (Not So Much)

One of the most appalling features of the Obamacare bills rolling through the House and Senate is the provision forcing Americans to purchase a health insurance plan or face IRS penalties if not jail time. The violation of individual rights associated with the idea that the federal government can compel a citizen to purchase goods and services is an especially obnoxious one, giving rise to a significant body of thought to the effect that the provision is completely unconstitutional.

That concept appears to be lost on Sen. Mary Landrieu.


Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) told she would leave it up to the “constitutional lawyers” to explain exactly where Congress gets the constitutional authority to force Americans to buy health insurance, the central mandate in both the Senate and House health care bills.

Landrieu, in her second term as a U.S. senator, responded to a question from at a press conference about the effect health care reform would have on small businesses. Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) joined Landrieu at the press conference. asked Landrieu: “You mentioned that there will be no employer mandate [in the Senate health care bill] but there is an individual mandate, and several members of Congress have said that an individual mandate is unconstitutional. What part of the Constitution do you think gives Congress the authority to mandate that individuals have to purchase health insurance?”

Landrieu said: “Well, we’re very lucky as members of the Senate to have constitutional lawyers on our staff, so I’ll let them answer that.”

She went further:

“But what I will say is that most certainly it is within Congress’ jurisdiction to come up with a way to have a health insurance funded with shared responsibility, is the way I like to, you know — government has a responsibility, individuals have a responsibility and business has a responsibility,” said Landrieu.

The health care bill that passed the House and the Senate bill (as currently written) both require that individuals purchase health insurance or face a penalty from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Landrieu defended the individual mandate in the Senate bill, saying that the burden of paying for health care reform should not fall “too heavily” on one group of people.

“So, while some people, and I occasionally will use the word mandate for or against, but it’s really a shared responsibility, so that the burden of this doesn’t fall too heavily on any one group,” she said.

Here’s video of the exchange:

The question of constitutionality of the provision has been something of a thorn in various Democrats’ sides. Asked about constitutionality, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could only manage to stammer “Are you serious?” And Sen. Roland Burris mumbled about the “health, welfare and defense” clause in the Constitution, which is nonexistent. Sen. Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was similarly dismissive: “I mean, there’s no question there’s authority. Nobody questions that,” said Leahy.

Leahy is wrong. His Republican counterpart on the Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) says he thinks the provision is unconstitutional and unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to expedite judicial review of the government’s power to force its citizens to purchase federally-regulated health insurance.

But regardless of the eventual outcome of the plan’s constitutionality, it’s clear that Louisiana’s senior senator can’t be troubled to investigate whether the federal government has the power to enforce key provisions of legislation to nationalize one-sixth of the American economy.



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