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Democrats explained: Mandaters gonna mandate

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One of the distinguishing characteristics of today’s Democratic Party is its growing affection for mandates, which is understandable. If Democratic-led governments want people to do things many of them, for whatever reason, may not want to do, then the governments will have to force (i.e., mandate) them to do so.

And Democrats at the federal, state and local levels want people doing things many of them do not want to do. For example, mandating people buy electric vehicles, or use more renewable energy, or shelter in place during a pandemic, or get vaccinated.

These days the Democrats’ mandate list is long — and growing longer. But their embrace of mandates isn’t new.

As president, Bill Clinton did his best to pass sweeping health insurance reform – often referred to as ClintonCare or HillaryCare – which would have mandated everyone have health insurance.

The ClintonCare effort failed to make it through Congress. Indeed, it was such a political disaster that by the midterm elections in November 1994, Republicans had taken over both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate for the first time in decades.

Then came Barack Obama, who as a presidential candidate claimed he wanted comprehensive health insurance reform but didn’t want to mandate health coverage. But once he was in the White House, Obama quickly gained a new-found respect for a health insurance mandate, which became the law of the land.

Not only did ObamaCare mandate that everyone have ObamaCare-qualified coverage or face a fine, it mandated that health insurers accept any individual who applied for coverage regardless of any pre-existing medical conditions, known as guaranteed issue. (While guaranteed issue was standard practice in group [i.e., employer-based] health coverage, where the costs could be spread over the whole group, it wasn’t when individuals bought their own coverage.)

Republicans challenged ObamaCare’s health insurance mandate, claiming the Constitution did not give the federal government that power. Republicans were correct, but Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts concluded the penalty for not having coverage was effectively a tax, and the federal government does have the power to tax.

Roberts’s argument surprised everyone and persuaded no one, but he provided the Court’s liberals with their fifth vote, so the insurance mandate was upheld. And once again voters turned out in large numbers for Republicans in 2010, giving them control of the House and later the Senate.

Now, President Biden is imposing a vaccine mandate on federal employees and federal contractors. His vaccine mandate on companies with 100 or more employees is apparently being drafted. And the president is defending his actions. 

As Biden explained in an Oct. 7 speech in Chicago, “There is no other way to beat the pandemic than to get the vast majority of the American people vaccinated. While I didn’t race to do it right away, that’s why I’ve had to move toward requirements (i.e., mandates).”

Note that government-imposed mandates are always couched in common-good language. The actions must be taken for the good of the people – whether they like it or not – because government knows best.

To be sure, governments occasionally must take steps that may include mandates. But such actions must be constitutional, and should be temporary, limited and removed as soon as possible.

For example, most Republican governors mandated state lockdowns at the beginning of the pandemic, but they did so reluctantly, limited the restrictions they imposed and tried to open their economies very quickly.

Oh, and most of them were harshly criticized by Democrats and the media for opening up too soon.

It’s not clear yet how the voters will respond to these new Democratic-imposed mandates. But we know this: Mandaters gonna mandate — and voters gonna vote.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews. 

Tags Affordable Care Act Barack Obama Biden Vaccine mandate Bill Clinton Clinton health care plan Healthcare reform in the United States Individual mandates Joe Biden ObamaCare

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