Despite sharp questioning from the conservative wing of the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the mandate provision in President Barack Obama’s health care law, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper predicts the court will uphold the controversial measure.
“I do not think the court will overturn the mandate,” Nashville’s Democratic congressman told reporters at a roundtable discussion Thursday. “They’re not prepared to substitute their judgment for Congress’s at such a dramatic scale.”
The fate of Obama’s signature legislative feat, however, seems in jeopardy after four conservative justices, and the one so-called swing justice, launched harsh words at the health care law’s mandate provision during opening arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in March. The National Federation of Independent Business, 26 states and individual citizens have challenged the health care law’s constitutionality.
Before the nation’s Affordable Care Act went before the court two weeks ago, many constitutional experts forecasted the law would be upheld by a 6-3 or even an 8-1 decision. But shortly after opening arguments commenced, it became clear the law’s individual mandate –– requiring every American purchase health insurance or pay a penalty –– is at risk.
“You are changing the relationship of the individual to the government,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote could swing a potential 5-4 decision one way or the other, either striking the law down or holding it up.
The mandate is widely seen as the linchpin to the entire 2,700-page law. The court’s decision on its constitutionality could come as early as June.
Cooper, who voted for Obama’s health care law in 2010, called the court’s oral arguments “feisty” and “fun to listen to” but not an indication of how justices plan to vote. He said he hopes the ruling is not a 5-4 decision, adding that they “don’t have much legitimacy.”
Cooper said Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. gave an “unusually weak presentation” during opening arguments, adding that he believes the justices will “compensate” for that.
Though he acknowledged the new health care law isn’t perfect, Cooper said health care clearly qualifies as interstate commerce under the constitution’s commerce clause, and thus Congress has the power to regulate it.
“For folks who know the law, they would not just be repealing this law but probably 80 years of legislation,” Cooper said. “They would essentially be undoing the New Deal and The Great Society if they really take apart the mandate. And remember: The mandate was originally a Republican idea brought forth by the Heritage Foundation. There’s a mandate in ‘Romneycare.’
“This really isn’t as partisan an issue as people think,” Cooper said. “A mandate just means individual responsibility. It’s like car insurance. You’re going to be on the road. People should have car insurance because you can’t tell if you’re going to have a wreck. If you’re going to live in this country, you need health insurance because you can’t ever tell if you’re going to have a heart attack or cancer, or something else happen to you.”
Constitutionally, Cooper said “even this Supreme Court” would uphold Medicare and thus also uphold a single-payer federal health care system. He said individual states have the authority to impose health insurance mandates, similar to car insurance mandates.
“That’s not a problem, but the federal government is weaker than the states because the states have a power to impose a mandate and we don’t?” Cooper said. “Well, aren’t we the United States of America? The first word there is ‘United.’ ”