It's important to recognize that the decisions were narrowly tailored to deal only with constitutionality of the two laws at issue: the federal Affordable Care Act and Arizona's S.B. 1070. Neither decision spoke to the wisdom of existing policy in either area. In fact, both health care and immigration laws are in desperate need of major revisions.
The health care decision, announced Thursday, affirmed the constitutionality of the major provisions of the law. While striking down one provision having to do with Medicaid, the Court upheld the most controversial part of the law, which mandates that individuals buy health insurance or pay a penalty to the federal government.
Five of the justices, including Chief Justice Roberts and the other four conservatives on the Court, said that the Commerce Clause could not be read to allow the federal government to require individuals to buy health insurance -- the argument advanced by the Obama administration. However, Roberts voted to uphold the law's constitutionality based on his interpretation that the federal government's taxing authority permits it to penalize those who choose not to buy insurance -- thus ensuring a 5-4 victory that in effect preserves the means to finance universal health care as envisioned by the law. In essence, the chief justice said that Obamacare is a tax imposed on those who do not wish to purchase health care.
If conservatives are smart, they will use this point to hammer home to Americans that the Obama administration has imposed a hefty tax on every American who is not covered by health insurance and has probably raised premium costs for those who already have insurance by mandating policies to cover new services. In an election season when many, if not most, Americans are feeling an economic pinch, this could be a huge problem for the president. And especially so because the president has consistently maintained that his health care bill was not a tax, nor would it raise the costs of health care. Republicans in Congress should use the opportunity to offer bills to repeal this regressive tax.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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