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In his Second Inaugural Address, Grover Cleveland reflected on the role that the President plays in protecting the United States Constitution:
The oath I now take to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States not only impressively defines the great responsibility I assume, but suggests obedience to constitutional commands as the rule by which my official conduct must be guided. I shall to the best of my ability and within my sphere of duty preserve the Constitution by loyally protecting every grant of Federal power it contains, by defending all its restraints when attacked by impatience and restlessness, and by enforcing its limitations and reservations in favor of the States and the people.
Cleveland realized that, when considering a piece of legislation, the first question that every president should ask himself is whether or not it is constitutional. The oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution is the most essential aspect of the office of the presidency. It must be regarded as such.
But in the recent "Health Care Summit," President Obama revealed that he may not be as dedicated to the oath that he took as his predecessors were.
During the exchange between Republicans and Democrats, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) stated:
Mr. President... you've got the individual mandate in here, which I think is unwise, and I, too, believe is unconstitutional.
Boehner isn't the first to assert that the President's reforms may be unconstitutional. FreedomWorks recently urged members of the House of Representatives to cosponsor Rep. John Sullivan’s (R-Okla.) resolution, H.R. 1063, to remove the individual mandate from all health care reform legislation. And, in an op-ed written for the Washington Post, constitutional scholars David Rivkin and Lee Casey write:
[A]dvocates of universal health coverage must accept that Congress's power, like that of the other branches, has limits. These limits apply regardless of how important the issue may be, and neither Congress nor the president can take constitutional short cuts. The genius of our system is that, no matter how convinced our elected officials may be that certain measures are in the public interest, their goals can be accomplished only in accord with the powers and processes the Constitution mandates, processes that inevitably make them accountable to the American people.
Yet, when Minority Leader Boehner mentioned these very real concerns to President Obama, he seemed to dismiss them as mere partisan politics:
John, you know, the challenge I have here -- and this has happened periodically -- is we're having -- every so often, we have a pretty good conversation trying to get on some specifics, and then we go back to, you know, the standard talking points that Democrats and Republicans have had for the last year. And that doesn't drive us to an agreement on issues.
The constitutionality of legislation, Mr. President, is not a Republican issue. It is not a Democratic issue. It is, at its core, an American issue. It is an issue that should be at the focus of every decision made by the president. To deny that is fundamentally flawed.
There are many objections to the current health care reform legislation, the most important being the fear that it is unconstitutional. Does the United States Constitution grant the federal government the power to force its citizens to purchase health insurance?
Instead of dismissing this vital question as a "Republican talking point," the President would be well served to consider the implications of his reform efforts. As Rivkin and Casey point out in the Wall Street Journal, granting Congress the power to mandate the purchase of health insurance eliminates all constraints placed upon it by the Constitution. If Congress possesses the authority to mandate the purchase of insurance, then it also possesses the authority to mandate that individuals:
...join a health club, or exercise regularly, or even eat… vegetables.
Of course, this revelation will not stop Washington elites from attempting to mandate that every American obtain health insurance. As long as there are lawmakers who believe that government comes first and individual liberties come second, this attempt to ignore the Constitution will continue. But, with the 2010 elections drawing closer and public unrest growing by the day, the defense of individual freedom is closer than some may think.