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{Colorado Springs Gazette, 2012-07-11}

Some of us have thought for a long time that there isn’t that much difference between spending your money how you want and living your life how you want. Sure, conservatives like one and don’t care much for the other, while liberals are just the opposite — but that’s more an accident of history than anything else.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on [[Obamacare]] is a backhanded compliment to those who believe the two are connected: Restricting one means restricting the other.

The Supremes agree. They just aren’t going to do anything about it.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court upheld the individual mandate provision of Obamacare, the part that says Americans must either purchase government-approved health insurance or pay a penalty on their income taxes. Interestingly, Chief Justice Roberts had to rewrite the law in order to make it constitutional. He had to ignore the law’s use of the word “penalty,” and instead decree it to be a tax.

This is somewhat embarrassing for the Obama administration, which had bent over backwards to assure the public that the mandate was not a tax. The president even said as much in 2009. But now that calling it a tax is the only way to make it constitutional, apparently it always was a tax. (In other news, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. [[George Orwell]] would have been proud.)

One distinctly non-Orwellian part of the ruling was the Court’s emphatic rejection of a Commerce Clause argument. The Court ruled that the Commerce Clause does not give Congress the power to regulate commerce that isn’t occurring; it can’t be used to force people to engage in commerce. This is a vitally important principle for the court to affirm.

Unfortunately, because of the provision that Americans could always pay more in taxes instead of buying government-approved health insurance, Roberts had the wiggle room he needed. Congress now has the power to tax you for not doing something. I still can’t figure out where in the list of the enumerated powers of Congress such a power appears (see the Constitution, Article I). Then again, I’m not as smart as Chief Justice Roberts.

Where did the individual mandate come from? During the drafting of the legislation, the give-and-take appears to have gone something like this:

President: Hear me, insurance companies! I hereby decree that you have to cover everyone, including people with pre-existing conditions.

Insurance companies: We can’t do that, we’d lose our shirts. People will only buy insurance after they get sick. That makes the very concept of insurance impossible.

President: Oh, right. Wait, I’ve got it! We’ll make people buy insurance!

Insurance companies: You mean you’ll force people to buy our product? Count us in, sir!

The penalty provision, (sorry, I mean the taxing provision), came in under the argument “we all pay for uninsured medical care anyway, so we’re just trying to deal with the free-rider problem.” So the decision of whether or not to insure yourself becomes tied with the decision of how much of your money you’ll be allowed to use as you like.

Where does this leave us with health care? Health care is definitely a mess, but this law makes it much worse. It is two thousand pages of bureaucratic micromanagement, delusional fantasy, and unintended consequences. Most important, it restricts our liberty even further. All in the name of the common good, of course.

But the common good need not require restriction of our liberty. In fact, I would argue just the opposite. We need health care that gets better and cheaper every day. That is much, much more important than anyone’s particular vision of fairness, equal access, or health care as a “right.”

That means we need more economic freedom in health care, not less. We need more personal choice, and fewer mandates. We need more competition, and less regulation. We need more individual responsibility, and less of an entitlement mentality.

We will get none of these with Obamacare. It may be constitutional, but it must go.