A state House panel has approved a bill blocking a key portion of the new federal health care law within Pennsylvania.
The health care legislation requires every American to purchase health insurance, or face penalties, beginning in 2014. The House Health Committee voted on straight party lines to void the mandate within Pennsylvania's borders.
Democrats on the panel argued the legislation is unconstitutional, since it would directly contradict federal law. Committee Chair and bill sponsor Matthew Baker countered that similar bills have been introduced in 42 states, and passed by six. "So it is the issue all across America right now: that this forced mandate is unconstitutional, and that states have the authority and the wherewithal under their constitutional construct to oppose a mandate that is unconstitutionally exacted upon them by Congress," he said.
Baker said President Obama and Congress were the ones who overstepped constitutional boundaries, by penalizing consumers who don't want to buy health insurance. "We need this bill in order to affirm and reassert our autonomy and freedoms. That what is not provided by federal law, the states have the ability to enact. And what this does is, it enacts an unconstitutional section of the federal health care bill called the mandate."
Democratic Committee Chair John Myers argued the 14-9 vote was a stunt. "What they're attempting to do today is to move forward their philosophical agenda, and not address the real issue. Because if they wanted to address the real issue we would be dealing with adultBasic today. And not dealing with this philosophical statement, anti-Barack Obama," he said. AdultBasic provides health insurance for more than 40-thousand low-income Pennsylvanians, but it's set to expire at the end of the month.
According to Baker, several constitutional elements are at play here. "The [Obama Administration] has to demonstrate that [the law] is derived from Congressional authority to regulate interstate commerce," he said, arguing regulation of "inactivity is an over-reach." (That's what a Florida federal judge recently found, in a lawsuit joined by then-Attorney General Tom Corbett.) Baker said the Tenth Amendment is also relevant. The language reads: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, not prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Whether or not Americans purchase health insurance, said Baker, is not Congress' responsibility.
So why not just let the federal courts decide the law's constitutionality, instead of pass a law that may violate another portion of the document, which reads, "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States...shall be the supreme law of the Land; and the Judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding"? "This is an added hedge of protection against federal overreach," said Baker.
So what's next? It's unclear when the full House would vote on the measure, though GOP leadership supports its intent. It's also unclear when or where the next federal court action will happen, though nearly every political and legal observer in the country agrees the health care law will ultimately end up before the United States Supreme Court.