Under Siege at the Legislature: Tea Partiers Howl Over Health Care Reform

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The entrance to the Legislative Plaza pressroom.
  • The entrance to the Legislative Plaza pressroom.

We're under siege here at the Legislative Plaza. Pith has retreated into the pressroom, a.k.a. the bunker, to file this dispatch. Outside, tea party protesters are jamming the hallway, bursting into occasional howls of anger, as a House subcommittee delays voting on various pieces of legislation to free Tennessee from the socialist takeover of our health care system.

Wait, it sounds like they're finally dispersing. We hear they're marching across the street to yell at the building that holds the state attorney general's office.

These teabaggers--who number maybe 100 by our count--converged on the legislature to demand the adoption of the so-called Health Freedom Act, among other bills. It supposedly would let liberty-loving Tennesseans disobey the new federal mandate to buy health insurance and compel the attorney general to defend these people in court if necessary.

We were afraid to mention this while they were outside screaming in the hallway, but we think their legislative strategy might run into a little problem--namely the U.S. court system.

When House Democratic caucus chairman Mike Turner was asked about this bill this week, he said: "I have one thing to say about that: Appomattox."

"We went through that fight once before," he said. He was referring, of course, to the Virginia town where Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses Grant in 1865. But actually, this issue was settled even earlier during Andy Jackson's presidency when the states' right doctrine of nullification was rejected. Congress's powers to regulate interstate commerce have been expanded and repeatedly upheld.

Wacky right-wing legal theories notwithstanding, health care and health insurance obviously impact interstate commerce. That gives Congress the clear power to regulate the health insurance industry. As this article explains, conservatives would have a case if all Congress was doing was mandating that people buy insurance and imposing a penalty against those who don't. But this legislation is part of a sweeping new regulation, and the individual mandate is a critical part of it. It's necessary to ensure affordable premiums.

The Health Freedom Act might make outraged conservatives feel better, but it's pointless otherwise.

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