My View From The Country

Obamacare Upheld; Ominous Sign For Rural Folk

The impact on the beef industry of the resurrected federal health care law has little to do with health care or deficits, but a lot to do with how we’ll be regulated and governed.

In what was a somewhat surprising announcement yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the health care law, nicknamed Obamacare, as constitutional. In writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that the individual mandate in Obamacare can’t be upheld under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which was the basis of the suit. But it could be upheld as a legitimate exercise of the federal government’s taxing power. In essence, the Supreme Court said the mandate was no different than a tax on gasoline or some other product. Certainly, the significance of what will now be one of the largest tax increases ever pales in comparison to what this means for the commerce clause.

With this Supreme Court ruling, the commerce clause essentially has been eliminated from the U.S. Constitution, as any regulation of commerce will be construed as legal as long as it can be interpreted as a tax of some sort. That means the federal government can elect to tax people, for instance, who elect not to buy low-mileage cars or even those who buy sugary drinks.

It’s striking that what was considered a conservative court has ruled twice in the last two weeks that the federal government basically has the ultimate say on all matters. Thus, states will only have a choice or say in those matters that the federal government hasn’t an interest or involvement in, which increasingly means only specialized local matters will be the purview of the states.

This development has significant implications for the U.S. beef industry, as all state groups will increasingly have to become involved in Beltway politics. Thus, the national organizations will supersede all others in importance and clout. Meanwhile, state organizations will largely be left to deal with the state and local agencies that will help to ensure the implementation of federal mandates and legislation.

Perhaps for rural audiences, and agriculture in general, the real concern is that this appears to be a continuation of a shift away from a representative democracy to a more egalitarian democracy. Thus decisions affecting rural areas, rural states and ag interests will increasingly be decided by those with little or no knowledge of our unique rural issues, lifestyle or interests. Whether or not it’s a good thing that California and New York will be creating policy for all of us probably depends upon which side of the fence you happen to sit on. 

According to Tom Curry, MSNBC political writer, the pertinent points of Roberts’ ruling was that Obamacare is constitutional in part and unconstitutional in part. First, the individual mandate can’t be upheld as an exercise of Congress’s power under the commerce clause, because that Clause authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce, not to order individuals to engage in it. But it is reasonable to construe what Congress has done is increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance. Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax, Roberts said.

So, essentially, you can’t order individuals to engage in commerce, but you can tax anyone for not engaging in the way you would like them to. For perspective, Congress can’t mandate that you buy Angus bulls, but they could tax you $3,000 if you don’t purchase them.

From an election standpoint, both sides were elated with the decision – Obama’s campaign was thrilled that his hallmark piece of legislation was upheld. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign was thrilled that a piece of legislation that remains very unpopular will now rival the economy as a major issue in the upcoming elections.

The short-term political gain and loss, however will be insignificant; it is the long-term ramifications of this ruling that will be onerous, as it allows the federal government to solidify control over all areas of our lives.

Discuss this Blog Entry 14

Dieter Harle (not verified)
on Jun 29, 2012

To every discussion at least two points need to be reasoned with. This issue about "Obama-care" is so political charged that it is impossible to be discussed fairly. We hear hardly any "unbiased" reasons and yet very emotional charged opinions and very few listeners with room for middle ground and compromise. It is high time to put our traditional alliances to a thinking test with a global perspective. It is a fact that the US constitution is over 200 years old! Tradition is great - we live today! Freedom is not without obligation to the system we enjoy and live to uphold.

Thomas C Howard (not verified)
on Jun 29, 2012

And your point is? As a liberal I thank and respect both the constitution and tradition. By their words my conservative friends do the same.

ginny (not verified)
on Jun 29, 2012

On the contrary Mr. Marshall, WE are allowing the federal government "to solidify control over all areas of our lives." Of the people, by the people, and for the people means we have to take responsibility for the actions of those we elect to represent us by sending them packing if they don't go to Washington and act in the interests of the people they are there to serve rather than the party line. Our problem isn't the East or West Coast, it is a society that finds it far easier to whine than take action.

Bill Kellogg (not verified)
on Jun 29, 2012

You are mistaken. Over time it will stop bankruptsy do to medical bills. It will improve the nations ability to compete with other nations on trade. It should improve the ratings we have on how well we take care of our citizens compared to nations with health insurance. Yes it will cost money - and yes it will make a profit to the nations health. Bill

Thomas C Howard (not verified)
on Jun 29, 2012

Your citation of taxing drinks and cars is silly. Of course tax drinks and cars, past present and future. (Not consuming health care is not an option so the point of being taxed for not.. won't fly) I agree re: representative gov't. The problem is the polarization by all. The "govern by shouting crowd is largely defined by the Tea Party. The occupiers hardly made a wave.

on Jun 29, 2012

I'm not surprised that BEEF once again starts of the discussion of an important policy matter with alarmist, inaccurate and practically parinoid statements. First of all, the mandate, if classified as a tax, is far smaller than several other tax incrases in the past thirty years in cluding those by Regan and Bush One. Second, while justified under the taxing power of the government it is not a tax in the normal sense of tax increases aimed at generating new revenues. Rather, the funds from the mandate will be used to cover the cost of providing health care to those who cannot otherwise afford it. Third based on experience in Massachusetts and general analysis of the US market, less than a couple percent of people will end up paying the tax/penalty/fee or whatever you call it, all of the rest will have or be purchasing insurance. Fourth all of the legal analysis i've heard, by lawyers rather than cattle columnists, say the part of the ruling that gives the states the right to opt out of Medicaid coverage and that denied use of the Commerce Clause to justify the mandate equate to very serious limitations on what Congress can do in the future with regard to imposing requirements on states - - the exact opposite of the alarmist claim made in this article. Maybe enough people will put comments into this chain to enable a reasonably balanced and productive discussion of the issues, but this will happen in spite of and not because of the starting points offered in this article.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Aug 8, 2012

We should NEVER say something is OK because it only affects "a few percent" of the population. It would only affect "a few percent of the population" if the government said anyone producing food had to give there land to the government and grow food for everyone else for nothing.

Thomas C Howard (not verified)
on Jun 29, 2012

Excellent comment. The details of the taxation argument are especially welcome. "I knew that" but didn't have the courage or ability to say it. It must be faced, accepted and paid for: everyone gets health care. How to, is the question. Obama combines market and Gov't in acceptable ways. Total and item by item and patient by patient cost is the elephant in the living room but Obama care provides partial control means and avoids "rationing by ability to pay."

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 29, 2012

This is a program that will add hugely to an already out-of-control federal deficit. The Congressional Budget Office recently projected that Obamacare will cost $1.76 trillion over a decade, almost double the figure when the healthcare legislation was signed into law. That is a bill that will be paid by all of us, not just those forced to pay a "fine" for not having coverage. A trillion here and a trillion there and pretty soon you're talking real money.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/merrillmatthews/2012/03/15/im-shocked-obamac...

Roger (not verified)
on Jun 30, 2012

ThanK you to every one who takes the time to read, think about and comment on these issues. I manage a diversified and increasingly complex family farm and subscribe to ag. related publications for information to help us stay in business and make a profit occasionally. The political slant of the opinion articles cause me to wish I could get the info our business needs in another way.News flash to ag. publication editors, all farmers are not conservative federal govt. haters Like a lot of people I have concerns about the health care bill. Let's look at the facts and try to have informed and reasoned out discussion on this not unlike the process good managers use to make any decision affecting their family or business.

Keith Evans (not verified)
on Jun 30, 2012

Troy, how can the supreme court decision on health care "be a continuation of a shift away from a representative democracy," when what they did was uphold a law passed by our elected representatives in Congress?

If Congress changes its collective mind, then they have a right to change or eliminate the law all together. Sounds like representative democracy to me.

Keith

on Jun 30, 2012

Thursday was a dark day for our country. Not everything in this opinion piece was opinion. When opinions are right they are no longer opinions, they are facts. Troy has largely stated facts in this article. I'm 27 and I don't have health insurance. I choose not to buy it. My healthcare costs me about $300 hundred a year. That's about a sixth of an insurance premium. If I get cancer or have some other medical catastrophe I am prepared to live with my decision not to have insurance. I understand something fundamental about freedom. Freedom means you are free to fail as well as suceed. As a society if we limit the freedom of some to fail we have to limit the freedom of others to suceed. Making me pay for someone else's healthcare(or anything for that matter) limits my ability to suceed. This healthcare law became inevitable once we deicided that it was ok to steal from those who have and to give to those who don't. Just because you get a majority vote to steal doesn't mean it is right. It just makes it legal. Our founders intended our government to be limited by the constitution. We have ignored that document at our own peril since FDR.

RGerking (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2012

Making me pay additional health care costs due to individuals not carrying insurance and can not pay for a medical procedure, which does not have to be a catastrophic case, limits my ability to suceed!

on Jul 2, 2012

I agree. When I pay cash for my care I am paying for others who don't pay their own way. If you can't pay for it you shouldn't get it. A politician who says that would never get elected anywhere. The answer is never more government.

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As a fulltime rancher, opinion contribur Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.

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Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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