In pushing through parts of the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt reportedly told one wavering congressman, “I hope you will not permit doubts as to constitutionality, however reasonable, to block the suggested legislation.”
As one listens to the Obama administration and others defend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a Obamacare), one gets the impression that Roosevelt’s nostrum has been adopted as the official motto of this administration. Their attitude seems to be that, of course Obamacare is constitutional because, well, because it’s important.
The idea that federal government’s power should be limited is dismissed as a quaint relic of a bygone age. There are important national problems to be solved, and we should not be held back by a document from the past. As Representative Kathy Hochul (D., N.Y.) puts it, “Basically we are not looking at the Constitution... The decision has been made by this Congress that American citizens are entitled to health care.”
This attitude is on display in other areas as well. Constitutional niceties,legislative rules, and democratic debate are all impediments to be dispensed with when “we can’t wait.”
For example, the administration apparently grew tired of Republican opposition to the appointment of Richard Cordray as head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency created under the Dodd-Frank law, so they simply made a recess appointment of Cordray — despite the fact that Congress was not in recess. President Obama used the same non-recess recess appointment to name three new members to the National Labor Relations Board. When asked how he could justify doing so, the president simply shrugged and said, “I refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer. I am not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people we were elected to serve.”
Michael D. Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, heading research into a variety of domestic policies with particular emphasis on health care reform, welfare policy, and Social Security. His most recent white paper, "Bad Medicine: A Guide to the Real Costs and Consequences of the New Health Care Law," provides a detailed examination of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and what it means to taxpayers, workers, physicians, and patients.