07.20.2018 0

House defunds D.C.’s attempt to restore the Obamacare individual mandate

By Robert Romano

The House of Representatives voted 226 to 189 to prohibit the use of funds for District of Columbia’s Health Insurance Requirement Amendment Act of 2018 in an amendment to H.R. 6147 by U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ga.).

The D.C. law would require, beginning in 2019, that D.C. residents maintain individual health insurance coverage or else face a local tax penalty. The law was passed in response to Congress repealing the Obamacare individual mandate in the tax cut law that President Donald Trump signed into law.

The amendment was supported by Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning in a statement prior to the vote. Manning said, “Considering Congress explicitly ended this practice already, D.C. has absolutely no authority to compel individuals to purchase insurance, something the House can clarify today by passing U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer’s amendment. The D.C. government operates under Article I of the Constitution, and it is up to Congress to ensure that it is carrying out the laws of the United States.”

Manning’s statement earned the ire of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who tweeted at Americans for Limited Government, “Anyone else find it ironic that a conservative group named ‘Americans for Limited Government’ is calling on Members of Congress to abuse federal power to block a local law? I’ll be on the floor fighting @USRepGaryPalmer‘s rider to strip health care from DC residents. #HandsOffDC

From the @LimitGovt Twitter handle, Americans for Limited Government fired back, stating, “Perhaps you should actually read the statement. Limited govt does not mean no govt, it means follow the Constitution.”

Norton shot back, “Congress passed the Home Rule Act to create a locally elected DC government to ‘relieve Congress of the burden of legislating upon essentially local District matters.’ There’s no law barring DC or states from passing local health insurance mandates—3 states have. #HandsOffDC

To which, @LimitGovt replied, “That could change should the @USRepGaryPalmer amendment be enacted, which is Congress’ Article I, Section 8 prerogative under the Constitution: ‘Congress shall have power …To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District…’” referring to Congress’ plenary power to pass the laws of D.C.

So, while Norton is technically correct that the Home Rule Act, passed by Congress, gives D.C. the power to pass such laws, Congress retained its power to override any act of the District. That is its prerogative under Article I, love it or hate it.

Exercising expressly granted powers falls well within the rubric of limited government. It’s the very definition of it. A government that exercises only those powers granted to it by its constitution.

Which, really, it is unsurprising the House would exercise its authority in this case. After going through all the trouble of repealing the Obamacare individual mandate nationwide in the new tax law, it would have been unseemly and somewhat disgraceful to allow the tyranny of forcing people to buy insurance to continue in the nation’s capital.

Fortunately, the House got this one right, as it exercised its Article I power of the purse to stop the new mandate from going into effect. Hats off to Rep. Palmer and his Republican colleagues for getting this done. Now it is up to the Senate to follow suit. Stay tuned.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.

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