PJ Media

Will the GOP Walk the Walk on the Constitution?

Now that the Republicans have won control of the House of Representatives, they’ve chosen to demonstrate their respect for the U.S. Constitution in two important ways. First, they plan on reading the full text of the Constitution on Thursday, January 6, 2011, one day after swearing in John Boehner (R-OH) as the new speaker of the House. Second, they’ve promised that every new bill will contain a statement citing the constitutional authority for the proposed law. But while these are important symbolic steps, the real test will be whether the GOP-controlled House will defend the Constitution with deeds and not just words — especially on high-stakes issues like health care. In other words, will the GOP “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk” on the Constitution?

The fact that the Republicans proclaim respect for the Constitution is an encouraging contrast to the open disdain expressed by many Democrats during last year’s health care debate. When a reporter asked then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi where the Constitution authorized the government to require Americans to purchase health insurance, her only reply was, “Are you serious?” When Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) was asked a similar question at a town hall meeting, he replied, “The federal government […] can do most anything in this country.” And when then-Congressman Phil Hare (D-IL) was asked about the constitutional legitimacy of ObamaCare, he replied, “I don’t worry about the Constitution.” That’s a far cry from George Washington’s pledge that “the Constitution is the guide which I will never abandon.”

While the GOP’s expressions of respect for the Constitution are a welcome change, they are not enough. The Republicans must also demonstrate respect for and commitment to the underlying principles of the Constitution — namely, limited government and individual rights.

As Ayn Rand once wrote:
[T]he Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on private individuals… [I]t does not prescribe the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of the government… [I]t is not a charter for government power, but a charter of the citizens’ protection against the government.
The proper function of government is to protect individual rights, such as our rights to free speech, property, and contract. Only those who initiate physical force or fraud can violate our rights. A properly limited government thus protects our rights by protecting us from criminals who steal, murder, rape, and so on, as well as from foreign aggressors. But it should otherwise leave honest people alone to live peacefully. In particular, government should protect our right to enjoy the fruits of our labors, not rob us to pay for “stimulus packages” or “universal health care.”

Hence, if the Republicans truly wish to demonstrate their respect for the Constitution, they must support and defend the underlying principles of individual rights and limited government. In the realm of health care, they could do so by “defunding” ObamaCare and working towards its eventual repeal.

ObamaCare is closely based on the Massachusetts system of mandatory health insurance. Such a system violates individual rights on a massive scale, forcing individuals to purchase health insurance on terms set by government bureaucrats and forcing insurance companies to offer services at prices set by the government. The end result for Massachusetts residents has been skyrocketing costs, worsened access, and lower quality medical care.

Fortunately, the core provision of ObamaCare — mandatory insurance — has been ruled unconstitutional by federal judge Henry Hudson in Commonwealth of Virginia v. Sebelius. The Obama administration is appealing this ruling, and it may take years before the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately resolves this issue. Nor does Judge Hudson’s ruling block implementation of ObamaCare during the appeals process. In the meantime, the House of Representatives could demonstrate its support for the Constitution by depriving the Obama administration of any funding to implement its health plan. At present, Republicans lack sufficient votes to sustain a repeal against a presidential veto. But “defunding” ObamaCare would stall it until the GOP has a chance to win control of the Senate and White House in 2012 and finish the job.

With recent polls showing a majority of Americans supporting the outright repeal of ObamaCare, “defunding” would be a political winner for the GOP as well as a way of proving their commitment to the Constitution.

Indeed, the GOP could use “defunding” for issues beyond health care. For example, the House could vote to “defund” the EPA’s plan to perform an end-run around Congress and impose new burdensome regulations on carbon emissions. The Constitution gives Congress the “power of the purse” over the executive branch. Hence, whenever the executive branch threatens to runs amok, Congress has both the legal and moral authority to rein it in.

In the 2010 midterm elections, the American people restored the Republicans to power in House of Representatives in large part because of their promise to block ObamaCare, respect the Constitution, and defend the principles of limited government. The voters have done their part. It’s time for the GOP to live up to its end of the bargain.