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23 March 2010

Hold On Mr. Abbott, You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!

Recently Congress passed, through a duly elected majority, a controversial and complicated federal health reform law, which Republicans are now challenging as unconstitutional.  This challenge, they proclaim is girded with the most sincere belief in small government and limited spending.  However, though the wolf appears in sheepskin during this debate, I might remind the public that Republicans have also extended government authority.  In fact, Republican lawmakers in Congress opened the door for the VERY authority the healthcare reform allegedly violates.  Let's look at the facts:
(1) During the 1990's Congress created the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) which compelled states to create sex offender registries--without providing ANY funds for the same.  Congress pushed this unfunded mandate on states, regardless of the low recidivism many state lawmakers saw when the issue was studied, and they did nothing to pay for the program's implementation.  Republicans and Democrats during the Clinton administration fought challenges to the law which claimed the states had violated the ex post facto clause of the US Constitution.  But no one paid any attention to the new, broad expansion of federal authority.
(2) Earlier in this decade, President George W. Bush pushed several packages through which further extended SORNA and raised the bar for the several states, all the while the federal government never funded their expansion of power.  This culminated in the passage of the Adam Walsh Act, a comprehensive act with which only one state has complied given its extreme cost.  Nonetheless, the federal government was able under this act to extend its power further.  Finally, this increase in power was so significant that someone brought a challenge to the federal government's claimed authority.  This case (Comstock v. United States) is currently pending before the US Supreme Court.  It contests that the federal government has overstepped its constitutional authority under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.
(3) Flash forward to the current controversy.  Republicans are now encouraging state attorneys general to file suit (which several have) to contest the constitutionality of the federal healthcare bill.  Surprisingly many of these states attorneys general have challenged the healthcare bill on the same grounds they defend when applied to sex offenders.  Republicans claim that a federal mandate on the individual violates the Commerce clause AND the tenth amendment of the US Constitution.  This is the same very argument which has been brought against federal sex offender legislation.  The question now remains: Why do Republicans one year proclaim the very same power is okay, when the next year it is not?  Quite simply, this is but one more example of partisan politics at its finest.
(4) Consider further proof that this current controversy is no less than a partisan temper-tantrum:  Republicans have not had any problem with the expansion of the original SORNA under the later AWA legislation.  Even though every state currently has a sex offender registration program, and even though these programs require offenders to notify their state law enforcement authorities of their whereabouts and travels, Congress passed further legislation.  This unfunded mandate cost states more money than states were already being extorted under SORNA and created new powers whereby the US Marshall's office could enforce compliance.  How, I ask, is this not similar to the healthcare legislation which allows the IRS a new federal enforcement authority?  Further, how is this not similar to a healthcare bill (which is federally funded) that does nothing regarding interstate commerce but instead requires individuals to act in a particular way?