During a segment on MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” the show’s host made a startling claim: the “individual mandate” in President Obama’s healthcare bill doesn’t really exist.
Wait — what? Seriously, O’Donnell argues that because the mandate has been so watered down, it’s practically nonexistent.
“The mythical individual mandate in President Obama’s healthcare law now threatens to get the entire bill ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. And it is a mythical mandate,” O’Donnell argues, “there is not a real mandate in the Affordable Care Act.”
So … what, exactly, have the Supreme Court justices been debating?
“It was watered down in the legislative language to virtually nothing,” O’Donnell said, “the mandate was weakened and weakened again and weakened some more because of outraged liberals angry at the notion that poor people who could not afford insurance would be ordered by the government to buy it and then sent to jail if they didn’t.”
“Liberals never liked the individual mandate,” O’Donnell continued. “It originated as a Republican idea. The first Republican to put it into legislative language was Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island who, in 1993, introduced a healthcare reform bill as an alternative to Hillary Clinton’s healthcare reform bill.”
While his timeline is accurate, his claim leaves much to be desired.
True, when President Bill Clinton proposed his healthcare bill in 1993, a handful of Senate Republicans countered with their own plan, one which replaced Clinton’s mandate requiring employers foot the bill with a mandate requiring individuals foot the bill.
Nineteen years later and Republicans totally oppose the idea. What gives?
“In 1993, in fighting HillaryCare, virtually every conservative saw the mandate as a less dangerous future than what Hillary was trying to do. The Heritage Foundation was a major advocate of it. After HillaryCare disappeared, it became more and more obvious that mandates have all sorts of problems built into them,” former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich explained during a December 2011 debate.
But the bigger question for O’Donnell (and for everyone who cites The Heritage Foundation as the origin of the individual mandate) is this: Even if the mandate was concocted 19 years ago by a handful of Republican senators opposed to a mandate concocted by a group of Democrats, does that make it more or less constitutional? That is to say, neither the Supreme Court Justices nor the American people are interested in knowing who came up with what first. They just want to know if it’s legal.