by John Schachter
Who would have thought a 220-year-old law would be relevant in the health care reform debate that dominated the Supreme Court this week? Yet there it is – the Militia Act of 1792 – standing firmly as an answer to an oft-asked question in this debate. Is there an example of anything that Congress has mandated that people buy?
Let’s put aside for the moment that the requirement that we pay our taxes “mandates” that we all “buy” Social Security and Medicare, highways, medical and scientific research, tanks and weapons, and anything else the government pays for through its revenues. How about the narrower question of Congress specifically mandating that citizens actually purchase a good or service?
When ACS President Caroline Fredrickson appeared on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” on March 27, the show’s eponymous host appeared genuinely miffed when Caroline mentioned the Militia Act. “What act was that?” he asked. O’Reilly had insisted on hearing an example of Congress requiring citizens to purchase something – or as he so politely put it, “[Name] one thing that the federal government compels you to buy, one thing. One thing.”
And when given the oldest and most relevant answer, he balked. It’s pretty clear he didn’t expect there to be an answer. While it’s often difficult to divine what our Founders may have intended with various constitutional prerogatives, in this case we have actual hard evidence.
The following day (presumably after firing the intern who failed to brief him properly), O’Reilly had to justify his erroneous skepticism. Easy for him – he changed the question.