Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took another step toward embracing the Republican Party’s new tea party mandate in a speech before the Federalist Society’s annual convention in Washington this morning. Ripping a page right from the tea party hymnal, McConnell pledged to hold a vote on “full repeal” of the landmark health care law signed this year by President Obama, suggesting that unless Republicans can kill the legislation, America could be headed for a tyrannical police state.
Fear of the health care law — and more specifically, its individual mandate clause requiring the public to purchase health insurance as a way to bring down overall medical costs — was a tea party mantra on the campaign trail, with conservative activists claiming it would lead to everything from out-of-control spending increases to government-run death panels that will decide who lives or dies. McConnell embraced some of that terror in his speech today.
“By preventing the accumulation of excessive power, the Constitution is designed to reduce the risk of tyranny or abuse at either the Federal or state levels,” McConnell told the audience of conservative legal scholars. “The health care bill would remove an important bulwark of this protection.”
“So fighting this mandate couldn’t be more important,” he added.[TPM SLIDESHOW: Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Weekend Health Reform Became Law]
McConnell says the mandate clause is clearly unconstitutional. And he fears that if the Supreme Court rules otherwise, “there will be no longer any meaningful challenge whatsoever on Congress’ power to regulate its citizens under the Commerce Clause.”
Where that leads, McConnell says, is definitely not good.
“Congress’ specific power under the [Commerce Clause] will be transferred into a general police power,” McConnell said, “all but eliminating the Constitutional distinction between federal and state regulatory activity.”
Despite continuing in the minority after the Nov. 2 elections, McConnell said his caucus will do its best to, as the tea party so often put it, “kill the bill” when it comes to heath care reform.
“We will make the case for repeal through vigorous oversight and votes on full repeal of this terrible bill,” McConnell said, “even as we vote to eliminate it’s worst parts.” He pointed to his decision to sign on with the anti-reform lawsuit filed in federal court by conservative state Attorneys General as indicative of the zeal with which Republicans in the Senate will work to rip out (and, McConnell said, replace) the health care reform effort that dominated 2009 and 2010’s legislative agenda.
McConnell will now lead a Republican contingent in the Senate that either just got done getting elected by tea partiers or is currently terrified of running afoul of the movement in future elections. Even McConnell felt the wrath of the conservative insurgency on his home turf, when a tea party-fueled GOP electorate in Kentucky roundly defeated McConnell’s choice for Senate nominee and elected now Sen.-elect Rand Paul instead.
In the days since the Nov. 2 election, McConnell has made it clear he is ready to cry uncle in the face of the rising tide of tea. This week, he decided to back an earmark moratorium in the Republican caucus after it became clear that tea party-fueled opposition to earmarking trumped his defense of the practice.
“Democrats have ignored the American people for two years,” McConnell said. “Now that we have been able to win back the voters’ trust, we will not be found guilty of the same mistake.”