The Tenth Amendment Run Amok?

by Tom Mullen

In between “gotcha questions” and the Pawlenty-Bachman slurfest, an interesting discussion actually occurred during the Fox News presidential debate staged in Iowa on Thursday night (8/11/2011). It concerned Tim Pawlenty’s quite valid criticism of Mitt Romney’s role in expanding government healthcare in Massachusetts. During Romney’s term as governor, he signed into law a state healthcare plan that served as the basis for what is popularly known today as “Obamacare.”

Romney replied with a defense based upon the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution, saying that Massachusetts passed a law that was right for Massachusetts, but that President Obama forced a “one size fits all solution” on the entire nation, usurping the powers reserved to the states or the people.

Calling him a “constitutional expert,” panelist Chris Wallace asked Congressman Ron Paul whether the states “have a constitutional right to make someone buy a good or a service just because they are a resident.” Paul replied,

“No, the way I would understand the Constitution, the federal government can’t go in and prohibit the states from doing bad things and I would consider this a very bad thing. But you don’t send in a federal police force because they’re doing it and throw them into court.”

Rick Santorum replied that this argument represented “the Tenth Amendment run amok” and quoted Abraham Lincoln that “the states don’t have the right to do wrong.” He argued that the United States is a nation built upon moral laws, implying that he would support the federal government overriding the state government if an action of the state violated those moral laws.

So, what moral law does “Romneycare” violate and should the federal government step in and intervene?

For libertarians, many aspects of both Romneycare and Obamacare violate the moral law of non-aggression. It initiates force against individuals who have not aggressed against others by forcing them to buy a product. It forcibly steals their money to buy healthcare for other people. It forces them to pay for a government-run “exchange” which distorts the market and privileges government-connected health insurers.

Whether most conservatives see it from this perspective is not clear – they rarely make arguments based upon rights, rather than results. But Rick Santorum believes that Romneycare is immoral, by whatever moral standard he is using.

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