On his blog at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum compares Obama’s requirement that everyone buy health care to the law that requires car owners to buy airbags and insurance. He writes:
When I bought my last car, for example, I was forced by federal law to also buy seat belts and air bags — and as far as I know, no court has ever suggested the federal government lacks this power. Why?
Technically, of course, the government isn’t forcing me to buy these things. I could, if I wanted, forego the purchase of a car. This isn’t very practical where I live, serviced as I am by a single bus line that comes by once an hour, but I could do it. I could also move someplace with better transit. I’m not absolutely mandated to own seat belts and airbags.
But in real life, the fact is that most of us need a car. It’s only an option in the most hyperlegalistic sense, which means that for all practical purposes the federal government has mandated that I buy seat belts and airbags. And they’ve done that on the theory that even if I don’t care about my own safety, other people might ride in my car and they deserve protection. What’s more, taxpayers could end up on the hook for medical care if I injure myself and my passengers. So seat belts and airbags are the law.
Practically speaking, then, what’s the difference between this and an insurance mandate? In both cases the federal government is forcing me to buy something I might not want. The cost of complying with both mandates is substantial. You can be fined for disabling airbags or removing seat belts, just as Obamacare fines you for not buying health insurance. They’re pretty damn similar.
I suggest that Drum’s argument comes from the same unthinking assumption of privilege that Obama’s health care law does. Drum doesn’t mention the many people in the U.S. who don’t have cars because they can’t afford to buy one. Would requiring them by law to buy cars work? Similarly, if a person doesn’t have the money to buy health insurance, where will they find the money to pay a fine?
Obama’s law makes about as much sense as it would make to legally require homeless people to rent apartments, and to try to fine them if they don’t.