George Will on Obamacare and Federalism

If you have some time this snowy Saturday, I would highly recommend George Will’s Sunday column as a good read.  The piece summarizes the lesser-known element of the Obamacare challenges to be heard by the Supreme Court in two months’ time – the argument that the law’s Medicaid expansion represents a commandeering of the states, in violation of the Tenth Amendment.  The article notes that any state refusing to expand its Medicaid program under Obamacare will forfeit ALL Medicaid funding; studies have demonstrated such a scenario would be so economically (therefore politically) remote as to be all but impossible.  And as the states’ brief to the Court noted a few weeks ago, the Court has already adopted the principle that federal strings attached to spending programs can become so great as to be coercive; if the Court will not reject as coercive the largest ever mandated expansion of the program that represents the largest portion of state budgets, what will it reject?  Will notes that it is this argument – limiting principles (or lack thereof) on Congressional power – that unites the challenges to the individual mandate and the Medicaid expansion:

The Obamacare issues of Medicaid coercion and the individual mandate are twins.  They confront the court with the same challenge, that of enunciating judicially enforceable limiting principles.  If there is no outer limit on Congress’s power to regulate behavior in the name of regulating interstate commerce, then the Framers’ design of a limited federal government is nullified.  And if there is no outer limit on the capacity of this government to coerce the states, then federalism, which is integral to the Framers’ design, becomes evanescent.

Therein lie the stakes for the American people that the Court will consider later this spring.