The exchange with Speaker Pelosi on Thursday occurred as follows:
CNSNews.com: “Madam Speaker, where specifically does the Constitution grant Congress the authority to enact an individual health insurance mandate?”
Pelosi: “Are you serious? Are you serious?”
CNSNews.com: “Yes, yes I am.”
Pelosi then shook her head before taking a question from another reporter. Her press spokesman, Nadeam Elshami, then told CNSNews.com that asking the speaker of the House where the Constitution authorized Congress to mandated that individual Americans buy health insurance as not a "serious question."
“You can put this on the record,” said Elshami. “That is not a serious question. That is not a serious question.”
In 1994, when the health care reform plan then being advanced by President Clinton called for mandating that all Americans buy health insurance, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office studed the issue and concluded:
“The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. An individual mandate would have two features that, in combination, would make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.”
Later on Thursday, CNSNews.com followed up on the question, e-mailing written queries for the speaker to her Spokesman Elshami.
“Where specifically does the Constitution authorize Congress to force Americans to purchase a particular good or service such as health insurance?” CNSNews.com asked the speaker's office.
“If it is the Speaker’s belief that there is a provision in the Constitution that does give Congress this power, does she believe the Constitution in any way limits the goods and services Congress can force an individual to purchase?" CNSNews.com asked. "If so, what is that limit?”
Elshami responded by sending CNSNews.com a Sept. 16 press release from the Speaker’s office entitled, “Health Insurance Reform, Daily Mythbuster: ‘Constitutionality of Health Insurance Reform.’” The press release states that Congress has “broad power to regulate activities that have an effect on interstate commerce. Congress has used this authority to regulate many aspects of American life, from labor relations to education to health care to agricultural production.”
The release further states: “On the shared responsibility requirement in the House health insurance reform bill, which operates like auto insurance in most states, individuals must either purchase coverage (and non-exempt employers must purchase coverage for their workers)—or pay a modest penalty for not doing so. The bill uses the tax code to provide a strong incentive for Americans to have insurance coverage and not pass their emergency health costs onto other Americans—but it allows them a way to pay their way out of that obligation. There is no constitutional problem with these provisions.”