Jacob Sullum

Perhaps Obama was thinking of Schechter Poultry v. U.S., the 1935 case in which the court ruled that the National Industrial Recovery Act exceeded the authority granted by the Commerce Clause. His press secretary, Jay Carney, muddled matters further the next day, when he said the president either was "referring to 85 years of judicial precedent" or making "an unremarkable observation about 80 years of Supreme Court history," implying that the crucial year was 1927 or 1932.

In any event, the challenge to the health care law was deliberately designed to avoid reconsideration of the Court's Commerce Clause precedents, including Wickard v. Filburn, the 1942 ruling that said Congress has the authority to stop a farmer from growing wheat for his own use because such self-reliance reduces aggregate demand, thereby exerting "a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce." Since then this absurdly broad "substantial effects" doctrine has proven spacious enough to accommodate virtually everything Congress has tried to do under the pretext of regulating interstate commerce.

Obama's claims about the Republican fiscal plan were similarly overwrought. Like Obama, the Republicans want to increase spending, just not by quite as much. They imagine a total of $40 trillion in spending during the next decade, compared to Obama's $45 trillion.

"If everything goes according to plan," notes Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy, "we won't have a balanced budget for decades." The Republican proposal -- which, as Investor's Business Daily analyst John Merline points out, begins by spending 46 percent more, adjusted for inflation, than Bill Clinton did during his last year in office -- adds $3.1 trillion to the national debt by 2022. Sadly, there's nothing radical about that.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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