At the beginning of the current Congress, House Republicans noisily proclaimed their fealty to the United States Constitution by reading it in its entirety on the House Floor and then patting themselves loudly on the back. But now, in their rush to "Stop ObamaCare at any cost!", they have thrown the Constitution out the window.
I get it. Republicans do not want the Affordable Care Act, which they have dubbed "Obamacare." They do not want middle-class and poorer Americans to get cheaper health insurance. They do not want to restrict the massive profits of health-insurance companies; to allow Americans with pre-existing conditions to buy health care; to cover children until they're 26 on their parents' plans; to provide subsidies to employers to provide health insurance; to penalize people that obtain their health care solely through emergency-room visits funded by taxpayers (the health-insurance mandate); to provide full coverage for Medicare prescription drugs; or to tax tanning beds, medical devices and a small percentage of wealthy Americans to ensure the law will lower, not increase, the deficit.
But the time to influence the law has passed. After a lengthy two-year process, whereby the Democrats accepted more than one hundred Republican amendments to what was originally a moderately conservative Mitt Romney/Heritage Foundation proposal, the vast majority of Republicans still refused to support the final law. Thus the Affordable Care Act became law in the usual constitutional fashion with little Republican support. It was duly passed by a majority of the House, a supermajority of 60 senators (to overcome the Republican filibuster), and signed by the president into law.Unable to get their way through normal constitutional means, the Republican Party is now throwing a tantrum. Because, as tea party Sen. Ted Cruz put it:
We don't have the votes in the Senate, we don't have the votes in the House, and to be honest, we're not close right now.
The Republicans developed an urgency to repeal the law extra-constitutionally, with Cruz saying:
If we don't do it now, in all likelihood, Obamacare will never ever be repealed. Why is that? Because on Jan. 1, the exchanges kick in, the subsidies kick in.... Their plan is to get the American people addicted to the sugar, addicted to the subsidies and once that happens, in all likelihood, it never gets repealed. So either we do it now or we surrender entirely.
But in the tea party/Republican rush to shut down the government and/or default on the national debt (otherwise known as "Economic Armageddon"), they have ignored the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, whose Section 4 provides:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.
Although originally provided to pay Civil War soldiers, the language of the 14th Amendment clearly applies more broadly to the entire public debt of the United States. Once Congress causes the United States to incur a debt, it must pay its debt. Indeed, the validity of the public debt cannot even be questioned!
This is not the only Republican proposal that would clearly violate the Constitution. Like most employers, the U.S. government provides health care insurance to its employees, including the president and members of Congress. Under current law, pursuant to an amendment put forward by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the president and Congress can use the Obamacare exchanges to buy health insurance with the compensation that has long been provided by their employer (the U.S. government) for health care.
But Tuesday's new House Republican proposal would immediately lower the compensation of the president and Congress by removing their health-care coverage. This expressly violates the Twenty-Seventh Amendment to the Constitution expressly, which forbids "varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives" until the next election in 2014.
The Republican Party has long claimed Obamacare is unconstitutional, at least until the United States Supreme Court found that it indeed was perfectly constitutional. Now, the House Republicans are violating two separate clear Constitutional prohibitions in a desperate suicide mission to bring the Government and the American Economy to a crashing halt if they don't get their way.
Maybe the House Republicans should have listened to themselves when they read the Constitution out loud last January.
Mark Levine, a talk radio host in Washington and frequent television commentator, formerly served as legislative counsel in the House of Representatives. He worked with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), on matters before the Judiciary, Homeland Security, and Financial Services committees. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkLevineTalk.