Greg Sargent and Adam Serwer get paid to be advocates for a leftist agenda via the Democratic Party. Serwer, who normally writes for leftist trash American Prospect has a post on Sargent's Plum Line blog that is short on the Constitution and the law and long on snark. He links to one of his own posts at American Prospect, which links to another post by Sargent, who links to a lefty contributor at Forbes named Rick Ungar. Ungar claims the federal government has always endorsed the idea of mandates for health insurance going back to 1798. In "An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen,” passed by Congress and signed by President John Adams, Ungar claims this means Congress always had the authority to mandate everyone in the country buy health insurance.
Except it didn't.
The short law, only five sections (as opposed to Obamacare's 2700 pages and God knows how many sections, and subsections, and paragraphs, and subparagraphs, and Titles, and Subtitles, and Parts, and blah, blah, blah...), dealt with the problem of merchant marine sailors who got injured or ill at their jobs. It authorized the federal government to set up hospitals for ailing mariners to treat them. So Serwer and Sargent and Ungar are driven to this conclusion - the Founders put together socialized medicine. Which leads to their next conclusion, the Founders would endorse Obamacare. And because of that, conservatives have been lying about the Founders.
We have? That's news to me. First off, conservatives (for the most part) don't have a problem paying for the government to provide health care for the military and veterans. Many times there are problems with this government-run health care, problems that should be fixed. But that doesn't mean we don't want taxpayer dollars to provide our defenders with the best care they can get. So the idea that conservatives don't want the government to engage in ANY part of health care for certain individuals is just wrong. That is a lie by the liberals.
Second, Ungar undercuts his own argument by explaining exactly what was contained in the law. After it was passed, those who wanted to enter the merchant marine were required to fork over a small percentage of their pay to fund the hospitals and health care. Nowhere does it say farmers, tinkers, blacksmiths, lawyers, or even owners of the ships the sailors worked on had to pay this insurance (yes, it could be classified as that). If anything, Ungar's argument would be akin to the car insurance mandate states require to drive on public roads in that state. So how does Ungar get around this argument? Guess:
Yes, the law at that time required only merchant sailors to purchase health care coverage. Thus, one could argue that nobody was forcing anyone to become a merchant sailor and, therefore, they were not required to purchase health care coverage unless they chose to pursue a career at sea.
However, this is no different than what we are looking at today.
Each of us has the option to turn down employment that would require us to purchase private health insurance under the health care reform law.
That's right; he lies about Obamacare. Obamacare doesn't require us to purchase a health insurance policy (private or employer-provided) when we get a job; Obamacare requires everyone to purchase a health insurance policy as a part of being over 26 and alive in America, even if we turn down employment. That is far different than the very limited scope of the 1798 law.
(It should be noted that the Marine Hospital Service, established by the 1798 law and was the forerunner of today's Surgeon General's office and the Department of Health and Human Services, slowly expanded over the next century to run a number of hospitals provided there was enough funding for them. However, most of the hospitals were closed, while many were turned over to local public health offices. All funding to these hospitals ended during the 1980s.)
Going back to Serwer's original post, he tries to make the case that this is more about politics than the law. He uses the Merchant Hospital Service as a preface to saying the Founders had no problem with government-run health care (naturally, without mentioning how limiting it was and who had to pay for it) in order to chastise Judge Roger Vinson for his excellent ruling:
Vinson also declares that failing to buy health insurance has "no effect on interstate commerce."...Everyone's health-care costs go up when people without insurance get sick and have to be treated in the emergency room...
Serwer's argument is purely political, not legal. Even Vinson pointed out in his ruling that it wasn't for him to decide if Obamacare was good or not; just whether or not it was legal under the Constitution. Serwer refuses to base any of his arguments on those terms, although it is absolutely required when discussing judicial opinions.
And because Serwer refuses to address the legal aspects, he is deliberately misleading another aspect of Vinson's ruling [emphasis mine]:
Vinson adopts the conservative thought experiment that that the individual mandate could lead to the government forcing you to eat your vegetables. "Congress could require that people buy and consume broccoli at regular intervals," Vinson writes, because "people who eat healthier tend to be healthier, and are thus more productive and put less of a strain on the health care system."
This is meant to be a clever response to the idea that the health insurance market has particular qualities that justify the mandate. The only problem is that the argument doesn't track -- food is not like health insurance because waiting until you're starving to eat doesn't make the price of potatoes go up for everyone else.
That is just blatant dishonesty by Serwer. Vinson said allowing Congress to regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause gives them the power to create other mandates. This leads to a reduction of liberties the Constitution is supposed to guarantee, not to give Congress the power to take them away. Serwer tries to turn it into something it isn't and never addresses what Vinson actually wrote.
Then Serwer comes back with this whopper:
Of course, the mandate itself is a tax (although the administration has tried to have it both ways on this point)...
If it were a tax, it's possible we'd have a different legal outcome (the left loves to mention how the mandate was originally a Republican idea; however, the mandate in that bill was specifically designated a tax, not a penalty like it is in Obamacare). But the Obamacare penalty isn't a tax, not legally and not politically. And Serwer is right about it; the administration has been trying to have it both ways.
Serwer finishes off his post as if this were a case of liberals providing enough campaign contributions to the Supreme Court, specifically Justice Kennedy, to say Obamacare is Constitutional. It's quite insulting, if you think about it. But Serwer and Sargent aren't journalists; they are political advocates who only care about having the government implement things they are advocates for. Neither the Constitution or the law will be allowed to get in their way. And if that includes being dishonest in things that go against their preferred policies, they'll do it, as Serwer did repeatedly and Ungar did discussing the 1798 law. This is what they get paid to do.