TAMPA, October 28, 2013 – President Obama won a temporary victory in his standoff with House Republicans over funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. He signed a continuing resolution to reopen the government without conceding anything on his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. But continuing resolutions are temporary and this issue is far from settled.
Arguments by Democrats and some media that efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act are unconstitutional show their lack of understanding of how government actually works. Their claims that because the legislation was passed by Congress, signed by the president and upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court, Congress has a constitutional duty to appropriate funds to execute the law illustrate just how woefully misinformed they are.
Former New Jersey Superior Court Judge and Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano explained, “Defunding permits to Congress to exercise the discretion it needs in order preserve tax dollars. By requiring yearly budgets and express appropriations, the Constitution expressly permits Congress to decline to pay for any regulatory scheme that it or a prior Congress has established.”
Professor of History and best-selling author Kevin Gutzman, Ph.D, J.D. says that the ability to defund enacted laws goes all of the way back to the Washington administration. Under President George Washington, James Madison proposed defunding part of the Jay Treaty. Moreover, he explains that delegates who ratified the Constitution were specifically told the House would have this power.
“Although virtually all historians miss this point, I note in James Madison and the Making of America that Madison had said during the Virginia Ratification Convention that the House would have this function in the treaty process, because it had this function in implementation of every law: it could refuse to fund it,” said Gutzman.
In fact, Congress defunds enacted laws all the time. Congress has defunded § 925(c) Exceptions: Relief from disabilities every year since 1992, for example. This is a law passed by Congress and signed by the president, just like the Affordable Care Act. The law provides a mechanism for convicted felons who have served their sentences to override the prohibition against convicted felons possessing firearms.
The Exceptions law helps mitigate the federal government’s war on the 2nd Amendment. Current federal law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony “in any court” to possess firearms (18 U.S.C. § 922(g). The only felonies excepted are offenses pertaining to antitrust violations, unfair trade practices, restraints of trade, or other similar offenses relating to the regulation of business practices.” (18 U.S.C. § 921(a) (20)(A).
The courts interpret that exception very narrowly. In Dreher v. U.S., 115 F.3d 330 (5th Cir. 1997), The U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit found that a conviction for wire or mail fraud does not fall under the exception. Dreher was found guilty of billing clients for services not rendered. He is ineligible to own a firearm. The exception by no means encompasses all non-violent or even all white collar felonies.
In other words, even Martha Stewart is prohibited for life from owning a gun, due to Congress’ defunding of § 925(c). While it is debatable whether lying to a federal agent when not under oath should be a crime at all, no reasonable person would conclude that it should carry a life sentence. Yet this is effectively the case. It applies to people convicted of “crimes” as innocuous as unlocking their cell phones to accept more than one carrier, downloading copyrighted music, or even, in some states, adultery.
Regardless of one’s political positions on the Affordable Care Act or gun ownership, Congress’ is exercising the same power in defunding the health care law as they do when defunding the reinstatement process for firearm possession. The latter has passed Congress every year for over two decades without public outcry from either Republicans or Democrats, despite § 925(c) having been enacted by Congress and signed by the president.
There is a good argument to be made that persons convicted of non-violent felonies should automatically regain the legal right to possess firearms the minute they are released from custody. As soon as a prisoner is released, he is subjected to all of the dangers from violent criminals that justify anyone’s right to bear arms.
Congress’ defunding of § 925(c) makes that danger permanent, while defunding the Affordable Care Act actually safeguards Americans from a government fine that many still consider unjust, regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Liberals are suddenly exasperated that Congress would assert its power over the purse, but the knife cuts both ways. If Congress can defund the 2nd Amendment, it can defund the Affordable Care Act.
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.