by Lee Anthony Nieves
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts surprised everybody last week with his ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, otherwise known as Obamacare.
In Roberts’ decision, he threw away the argument that Congress can impose health insurance on all Americans using the commerce clause and the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution. Roberts wrote that “The Framers knew the difference between doing something and doing nothing. They gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not compel it.”
Instead, Roberts chose Congress’s ability to “lay and collect taxes” as the constitutional force behind compelling Americans to purchase healthcare insurance under Obamacare, writing, “The exaction the Affordable Care Act imposes on those without health insurance looks like a tax in many respects. The “shared responsibility payment,” as the statute entitles it, is paid into the Treasury by “taxpayer” when they file their tax returns.”
In other words, despite President Barack H. Obama’s pledge to Americans, through numerous interviews in 2009 and 2010 that the Affordable Care Act was not going to be a tax (something like “Read my lips, no new taxes”), the writing in the law itself didn’t mask the obvious.
So what is the underlying message in the conservative Roberts’ ruling?
Clearly, this was a highly unusual step for Roberts to side with the liberal wing on such an epic lawsuit. It was a very bold and calculated route in which Roberts kicked the can back to Congress and President Obama, telling them that they own the can of worms and should accept the electoral ramifications.
A Democrat Congress wrote the law, passed it without Republican support, and it was signed by Obama in March 2010. What Roberts implied in his ruling is this is more of a political issue to be dealt with in the political arena – and that if Congress wants to repeal it, namely Republicans, then they should do it themselves and not look to the nation’s high court to legislate.
Roberts is also compelling the American people to engage in the political process.
The 2010 midterm election results are a clear indication of the anger American voters had against Congress and the White House. Democrats lost control of the House and nearly lost the Senate as well, primarily because of Obamacare.
That was all too obvious to Roberts, in a presidential election year, in which Obama will now have to explain his healthcare law, the imposition of new taxes on American workers to pay for it, the stagnant economy, and the lack of an economic policy that will foster jobs creation in the private sector.
So wrote Roberts, “But the Court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act. Under the Constitution, that judgment is reserved to the people.”
No wonder when Obama got to the microphone early that afternoon, he totally avoided the issue of his healthcare tax increases, and told Americans that “it’s time for us to move forward.”
The dissenter’s ruling, however, would have gutted Obamacare as an overreach of congressional authority, adding a final nail to Obama’s coffin before November.
Roberts’ decision merely does the blood-letting, drip by drip, until November’s election.
Lee Anthony Nieves is a former political aide to both New York City Mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg. A conservative-libertarian and a screenwriter, Mr. Nieves currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and two young daughters.