Sourced from Center for American Progress
Ian Millhiser’s op-ed on the U.S. Constitution: The Tea Party’s Fake Constitution
Date published: 2/27/2011
Spend a week listening to the right, and you’ll think the Founders were all modern-day Tea Partyers. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) thinks the Constitution forbids Pell Grants and federal student loans. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) thinks Social Security and Medicare are forbidden. Justice Clarence Thomas thinks that the minimum wage, child labor laws, and the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters all violate the Constitution. And everyone on the right thinks that health reform is unconstitutional.
It’s enough to make you think they’re just making it up as they go along. It clearly can’t be the case that every single law disfavored by conservatives just happens to be unconstitutional.
The answer, of course, is that the Constitution doesn’t belong to any political ideology. The only way to achieve the right’s goal of remaking our founding document into a Tea Party manifesto is to remove entire passages from the Constitution, to rewrite others, and to flat out ignore the fact that the document has been amended 27 times–often in ways specifically intended to ensure that national leaders are fully empowered to solve national problems.
The most prominent example of this effort to rewrite the Constitution is the ubiquitous lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that almost all Americans either carry insurance or pay slightly more in income taxes. Judges Henry E. Hudson of Virginia and Roger Vinson of Florida, the two conservative judges who struck down this requirement, literally wrote an entire provision of the Constitution out of the document. The Constitution does not simply give Congress sweeping authority to regulate the national economy. It gives Congress–in conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s words–”every power needed to make that regulation effective.”
This is why the Affordable Care Act easily survives constitutional scrutiny. Its provision eliminating one of the insurance industry’s most abusive practices–denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions–cannot function if patients are free to enter and exit the insurance market at will. Patients who can wait until they get sick to buy insurance will drain all the money out of an insurance plan that they have not previously paid into, leaving nothing left for the rest of the plan’s consumers.
Nor is this fear just idle conjecture. Seven states enacted a pre-existing-conditions law without also passing an insurance coverage requirement, and all seven states saw their health-insurance premiums spiral out of control. In some of these states, the individual insurance market collapsed, leaving many people without any insurance options whatsoever. Massachusetts, by contrast, enacted a law that is nearly identical to one President Obama signed last year, and the results were striking and immediate. Massachusetts’ premiums rapidly dropped by 40 percent.
And Hudson and Vinson’s effort to remove a key provision from the Constitution is only the tip of a much larger spear pointed directly at the hearts of American workers, children, and retirees. If conservatives succeed in replacing the Constitution with their own narrow vision, dozens of cherished accomplishments will simply cease to exist overnight.
The Tea Party draws its inspiration from a brief, 50-year period in the late-19th and early-20th centuries when the Supreme Court declared that our national leaders’ power must be small enough that it can be drowned in a bathtub. Child labor laws were tossed out as an affront to the 10th Amendment. Basic federal protections for adult workers were deemed beyond the nation’s power. A single company obtained a stranglehold on the nation’s sugar market, but the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional to make this company follow antitrust laws.
If America were ever to return to this abomination of the Constitution, the results would be felt by nearly every American. All federal laws protecting workers’ right to organize, or to be free from discrimination, or to seek equal pay for equal work, would disappear. Hundreds of basic laws ensuring corporate responsibility would also vanish. Even whites-only lunch counters would cease to be illegal.
Despite the fact that the Constitution gives national leaders a broad power to raise money and to “provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” the Tea Party’s constitution imposes secret and unwritten limits on how the United States can spend money. Health-care programs, such as Medicare or Medicaid, are both off the table. Education is not allowed, so no Pell Grants or federal student loans. Forget about retirement programs like Social Security. Sen. Lee has even claimed that it was unconstitutional to provide relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
IGNORING THE PAST
What’s so fundamentally dangerous about all these claims–from the lawsuits challenging health reform to the assaults on Social Security, Medicare, and child-labor laws–is that they ignore the very reason why America forbids the exploitation of children and ensures that the elderly do not wallow in poverty.
No king declared that whites-only lunch counters are hereby forbidden. Nor did some Stalinist dictator decree that Americans should not be laid low by preventable diseases. Rather, America provides a safe and respectful workplace, a dignified retirement, and–soon–affordable health care for all because these decisions reflect our fundamental values. Democratically elected leaders gave us Social Security, child labor laws, and the Affordable Care Act, and the right is wrong to believe that our Constitution must be rewritten to eliminate these programs by fiat.
The far right has to understand that Americans will not stand for an agenda that would kill all of the progress of the last century–which is why their fake constitution is ultimately an authoritarian assault on democracy itself. Tea Party radicals are unlikely to succeed in repealing Social Security, Pell Grants, or the Affordable Care Act. But if they can get them all declared unconstitutional, they won’t have to.
This article was originally published in Fredericksburg.com.