Once again, gentle reader of my blog, (all 1 of you, you know who you are ;), we cite the excellent writing at American Thinker. This morning’s piece is on the dusty-old, but, to civics-geeks, exceedingly exciting matter of the Origination Clause, as it specifically relates to Obamacare, and more specifically, a SCOTUS* lawsuit to kill Obamacare. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on t.v., but I need help with this American Thinker piece’s anti-Obamacare legal argument because it reads to me like a pro-Obamacare legal argument, save the last paragraph.
By way of a quick review, since I presume you have a life and haven’t followed the minute particulars like those of us who haven’t seen daylight since Obama showed up, Obamacare was born by (then) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gutting a piece of revenue-raising House legislation he found languishing in the bottom of a desk drawer, and inserting Obamacare. Why did Dirty Harry do this? Because only the House can tax the people and Harry needed a piece of paper with a big “H” on it to morph it into the biggest tax & redistribution legislation in the history of human-kind, Obamacare. The Senate is allowed, of course, to “amend” House legislation, so Harry decided “amend” meant ripping absolutely e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g out of that piece of paper except the “H” and the bill number. No… Really. I mean it. Literally. That’s “amending” a piece of legislation in the new America post-January 20, 2009. The bill could have been on curtain rods, but instead of amending it to include curtains, he “amended” it to include fish-bait. Does that sound like an “amendment” to you? An normal person? No. Of course not.
Now, I know that’s a quaint, and antiquated matter these days, that pesky Constitution, but Harry’s been around a long time and knows he needs to cross his t’s and dot his i’s down there on the Hill, being without the expansive powers of the magic “pen and a phone” of his consigliere at 1600 Penn. So he figured as long as the origination bill had an “H-0000” on it, who the hell would notice, right? I mean… Really? It’s not like we have an adversarial press, and Obama-voters were watching “American Idol” not CSPAN.
Well, unhappily for Obama, not everyone was smitten with the Black Jesus, nor was everyone was watching “American Idol,” including the author of this piece who says he is trying to help anti-Obamacare people by dint of his research, in the form of a scholarly article he summarizes for the masses at American Thinker, which I include in full below. But dang it all if it didn’t seem to do the opposite to me! I read the entire thing, twice, and the ENTIRE article – SAVE the LAST paragraph – tells me how the author’s reading of the past HELPS PRO-Obamacare people – then WHAM! In the last paragraph, based on what I regard as an argument UNSUPPORTED BY EVERY SINGLE PARAGRAPH PRECEDING IT, says “NO WORRIES! It’s all good! SCOTUS will kill O’care because… non-‘germane’ amendments.”
Can some smart reader here help me? Because to a TOTAL non-lawyer it TRULY seems to me the last paragraph stands unsupported by all the previous paragraphs… Am I wrong here?
*SCOTUS = Supreme Court of the United States
April 27, 2015
One of the constitutional disputes triggered by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is whether by substituting new material for the original House-passed bill (H.R. 3590), the Senate exceeded its constitutional power to amend the original measure. This, in turn, has provoked a debate over whether the Founders considered complete substitutes to be valid amendments.
A recently-republished piece of evidence suggests that they did. The Constitution’s Origination Clause requires that “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.” Because the final version of Obamacare imposed a variety of taxes, it unquestionably was a “Bill for raising Revenue.”
Obamacare’s taxes, appropriations, and health-care regulations did not exist in the House-passed version of H.R. 3590. That incarnation of the bill was only a few pages long and was limited to making minor adjustments to the Internal Revenue Code irrelevant to health care. Under the guise of amendment, the Senate gutted the original language and substituted over 2000 pages of Obamacare.
Some writers argue that complete substitutions were not considered valid amendments during the Founding Era, while others contend that they were. Last year, I undertook a wide-ranging investigation into the subject that will be published within the next few weeks by the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. The article is summarized at length here.
I found that complete substitutions may have been unknown in the British Parliament, one source of the Constitution’s House-origination rule. I also found, however, that they were occasionally used in several states between Independence and the time the Constitution was ratified, and that they were considered valid amendments in those states.
This year, the Wisconsin Historical Society issued two new volumes of the magisterial Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Those volumes cover the debate over the Constitution waged in Maryland from 1787 through the end of 1788.
The first of the volumes reprints a pamphlet written in favor of the Constitution by “Aristides,” the pen name of jurist Alexander Contee Hanson. Hanson was a respected figure in Maryland, and his pamphlet was read widely both in that state and in Virginia. At one point he addressed the question of whether the Constitutional Convention exceeded its authority on the (substantially false) assumption that the delegates’ commissions had been limited to proposing amendments to the Articles of Confederation. Hanson argued that proposing a substitute was a recognized form of “amendment:”
Amendment, in parliamentary language, means either addition, or diminution, or striking out the whole, and substituting something in its room.
Hanson’s assertion is particularly relevant to the Constitution’s original meaning because his own state legislature is not among those offering contemporaneous evidence of complete substitutions. Hanson was reflecting, in other words, an understanding that extended beyond his own state’s boundaries.
Unfortunately for advocates of Obamacare, the validity of complete substitutions as “Amendments” does not resolve the issue of constitutionality. During the Founding Era, even complete substitutes had to be connected to the subject matter of the original bill — or, in modern language, “germane” to the original. Otherwise, they were new bills, not valid amendments.
For reasons documented in my article, H.R. 3590 as passed by the House qualified constitutionally as a “bill for raising Revenue” (even though it was revenue-neutral) because it amended the tax code. Under Founding-Era rules all the Senate’s revenue changes were germane to the original, and therefore valid. However, the Senate-added appropriations and regulations were not germane to the subject of revenue. By including them, the Senate exceeded its authority to amend a “bill for raising Revenue. This means that by the Founders understanding of the Origination Clause, those additions were unconstitutional and void.
Rob Natelson is Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence, Independence Institute & Montana Policy Institute, and Professor of Law (ret.), The University of Montana