Here is a quick pop quiz. Which presented more harm to human life and personal freedom: the 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government last month or the rollout of Obamacare this month?
Obamacare is the greatest single expansion of federal regulatory authority in American history. In one stroke, it puts 16 percent of American economic activity — virtually all of health care and health insurance — under the thumb of federal bureaucrats. It dictates the minimum insurance coverage that everyone in the United States must have.
It punishes severely, without a hearing, anyone who deviates below the prescribed minimum. It forces nearly all Americans to acquire coverage in a one-size-fits-all policy, including coverage for events that cannot occur.
Obamacare was passed by both houses of Congress with support from Democrats only, using parliamentary tricks, rather than straight up-or-down votes. All the Democrats voted for it after President Obama promised them and the American people ad nauseam that if they like their current doctor and if they like their current health insurance, they would be able to keep them under Obamacare.
The law was found constitutional by the Supreme Court only after the chief justice — who acknowledged in his opinion in the case that Congress lacks the authority to compel people to engage in interstate commerce by forcing them to purchase a good they don't want — changed his mind on the ultimate outcome of the challenge. In order to save the law from imminent constitutional extinction, he created a novel legal theory, and he persuaded the four progressives on the court to join him.
They ruled that the punishment for the failure to obtain the level of health care coverage that the law requires is actually a tax. Then the court ruled that because Congress can constitutionally tax any event, it can tax nonevents (like the failure to purchase health insurance), and so the entire scheme is constitutional because it is really just a tax law.
The Supreme Court, lawyers sometimes say, is infallible because it is final; it is not final because it is infallible. I am a student of the court, and I revere it. It can change the laws of the land, but it can't change the laws of economics. When Obamacare ordered all insurance carriers in the land to cease offering health care plans that provide insurance coverage below the federally mandated minimum, they naturally began to cancel those plans. When the new health care exchanges that Obamacare established failed to find coverage for those formerly insured by the substandard plans, those who had these plans and liked them suddenly were told that on Jan. 1, 2014, when Obamacare becomes effective, they will have no health insurance. The old insurance coverage will be illegal, and there is no new coverage for them.
Why were these substandard plans canceled when the president repeatedly promised that they could be kept? Didn't the president know that he was not being truthful when he signed a bill into law that mandated minimum coverage, yet promised that plans that failed to meet that minimum coverage could survive the law? How is it that emails from the West Wing to the White House and legal briefs filed by the Department of Justice defending Obamacare in various federal courts acknowledged that millions would lose the doctors and the coverage that they liked?
One of the reasons many Americans had their policies canceled this month is the failure of those policies to conform to the new federal minimum requirements. At the heart and soul of Obamacare is the power of bureaucrats to tell everyone what coverage to have. At the core of Obamacare is the removal of individual choice from the decision to purchase health care coverage. The goal of Obamacare is high-end coverage for everyone — brought about by Soviet-style central planning, not in response to free-market forces.
From the perspective of the central planners who concocted Obamacare, minimum insurance coverage is the sine qua non of the statute. They want you to pay for coverage you will not need or ever use, so that the insurance carriers will have extra cash on hand to fund coverage for those who cannot afford high-end policies. This is where the laws of economics enter. By forcing all carriers to offer only high-end policies, the statute forced the carriers to raise their rates. By raising rates, the substandard policies — with their lower rates — could no longer be offered. If the government forced everyone to buy a Mercedes when most are perfectly happy with an Acura, soon the Acuras would disappear from the market, and most of us would be walking to work.
Now back to our pop quiz. When Congress was unable to agree on a budget for this current fiscal year because Tea Party Republicans saw this mess coming and wanted to dull its sting, and congressional Democrats refused to negotiate with them, the federal government partially shut down. The Democrats and the mainstream media went wild. They claimed the government would default on its obligations and that millions would suffer without the conveniences normally offered by the federal government. Yet, the only inconvenience we really heard about was the inability of a few hundred folks to visit federal parks and monuments. All federal services — defense, the courts, the airports, customs and meat inspectors — continued to operate the same as before the shutdown.
Yet, when Obamacare was rolled out earlier this month, more than 5.5 million innocent Americans lost their health insurance. The president knew of this in advance and lied about it repeatedly, and caused it with the one-size-fits-all mentality of his signature piece of legislation. Last week, he caved and said that folks who have the old substandard policies could keep them for another year. This was too little and too late. He can no more change federal law than he can change the laws of economics, and he knows that.
In modern times, we have endured great lies told in the White House. One great lie was about a third-rate burglary, and it ended in a presidential resignation. Another great lie was about a private sexual affair, and it ended in a presidential impeachment. The current great lies are about the health and freedom of 5.5 million Americans. How will this mess end?
Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel. Judge Napolitano has written seven books on the U.S. Constitution.