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Commentary Detail

Debate on Health Care Reform Requires Understanding of Constitution, History
Commentary by: Pete Abel
Aired August 21, 2009


In late July, a young man demanded an apology from Senator Claire McCaskill because she supports health care reform, which is not among the powers of Congress enumerated in Article I, Section 8, of our Constitution.

A week later, crowds in St. Louis and beyond demanded that they be allowed to disrupt public meetings about health care reform because their protests, they argued, are a form of protected speech guaranteed by our Constitution’s First Amendment.

In both situations, health care reform was one common thread. Another was the selective reading of our nation’s history and defining document.

Yes, the First Amendment guarantees free speech, but it also guarantees the right of the people to peacefully assemble. The juxtaposition of those rights in the same amendment suggests they should be carefully balanced – that they should co-exist in the real world, as they do on paper.

It’s also true that Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution does not give Congress the express power to reform health care. But there are many things our Constitution does not give Congress the express power to do – such as financing higher education or building a railroad to the West Coast. And yet, in the early 1860s, a Republican Congress passed bills to do both of those things.

On health care reform, there are many legitimate points worthy of vigorous debate. But for that debate to be constructive, it must be grounded in a full and fair reading of our history and Constitution.


(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Pete Abel

Pete Abel

Pete Abel is a public affairs executive. He serves on the boards of Stages St. Louis and the Greater Missouri Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Association. Previously, he served as managing editor of the political blog “The Moderate Voice.” His career started in 1985, first as a freelance reporter and later as a full-time staff writer for the St. Louis Suburban Journals, covering municipal politics and local businesses.

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