Defending the Constitution

Rep. Joseph R. Pitts Congressman, Pennsylvania 16th District
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On September 17, 1787, the Constitutional Convention’s delegates signed the final draft of the Constitution. That document has stood the test of time, providing both stability and liberty. Just before signing the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin noted that while it was a document written by men with their own failings and prejudices, it was nearly perfect: “Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.”

The Constitution establishes the working principles of our legislative, executive and judicial branches. The Founding Fathers knew that though these bodies would be in conflict, that conflict would ensure that none of the three would hold ultimate power.

James Madison, writing in The Federalist, states that: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, whether hereditary, self-appointed or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

The Constitution, however, did not establish the federal government as the sole governing power in the United States. In fact, Madison described the powers of the federal government as “limited and few.” The separate states withheld significant power. This principle was reiterated in the Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Both the state and federal governments are meant to be guarantors of liberty. Where one may fail, the other can protect our rights. This means that the federal government acts properly when it ensures that every American, no matter who they are, has the right to vote. The states cannot void this right through outright discrimination or cumbersome requirements.

Sometimes, however, the states must stand up when the federal government oversteps its bounds. Some see Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce as providing the means to intervene in nearly every facet of modern American life.

This week in a courtroom in Florida, 20 state attorneys general brought suit against the federal government over mandates in the new healthcare reform law. Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett is one of the parties to the suit, and I applaud his defense of liberty in our state.

The attorneys general are contesting whether the mandate to purchase health insurance is constitutional. I do not believe that our Constitution grants our government the right to compel the purchase of insurance. When President Obama was on the campaign trail, he stated skepticism about whether mandatory insurance was the best way to fix healthcare.

He challenged Hillary Clinton’s healthcare plan that included a mandate saying, “You can mandate it, but there’s still going to be people who can’t afford it. And if they cannot afford it, then the question is, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to fine them? Are you going to garnish their wages?”

However, that is exactly what Obamacare will do. Each American will be required to provide documentation to the IRS that they have federally-approved health insurance. If an individual is not enrolled in a plan, they will be forced to pay a penalty.

I think that candidate Obama was right. The American people want to see healthcare costs controlled, but the new law takes away our liberty without reducing costs or improving care.

The federal judge overseeing the case has indicated that he will allow the suit to move forward. Arguments in the case will begin as early as December, and I hope that all Americans pay attention to this important debate about their basic rights.

While I hope that the judge strikes down portions of the law, I’m not going to wait for the judiciary to act. I’m already a cosponsor of legislation to repeal Obamacare, and I’ve also signed a petition insisting that Speaker Pelosi bring this legislation to the floor for an immediate vote. Today, on Constitution Day, I’m reminded that I also took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

Rep. Joe Pitts represents Pennsylvania’s Sixteenth Congressional District.