The slippery slope metaphor is often used as an argument against a specific action because the action can lead to subsequent related actions, each with less similar facts until actions ultimately have little to do with the intent of the original action.
The commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, for example, was narrowly aimed at preventing states from imposing tariffs on goods shipped across state lines, effectively impeding the conduct of interstate business. But in the last 75 years, the definition of “commerce” by Supreme Court justices has been broadened to include regulation of economic activities with cross border effects (e.g., wheat farming or marijuana cultivation). Now it’s health insurance’s turn.
The Supreme Court heard legal arguments this week over the constitutionality of the provision in the 2010 Patients Protection and Affordable Health Care Act (aka ObamaCare) that mandates every U.S. citizen have health insurance or pay an annual fee for non-compliance. Legal advocates of the mandate cite the commerce clause as justification for the mandate. If the Supreme Court upholds this position we will have gone from federal regulation actual interstate business to regulation of life choices connected to interstate business.
The mandate is a penalty (or tax) for choosing not to engage in an economic activity. By that logic federal regulation can penalize non-participation in any economic activity the government classifies as interstate commerce — you must buy an electric car. Also, upholding the mandate vitiates states rights protection against federal government intrusion built into the Constitution to curb the latter’s power. There’s a lot more at stake here than the mandate.
The Supreme Court will issue its ruling on the case in June. But let’s assume the mandate stays, a very good chance by the way. Let’s see where the slippery slope can take us.
Some federal government entity has to monitor compliance and collect the tax (or penalty). The logical choice is the IRS, in effect a policing agency. Since virtually every adult is required to file income tax forms annually, it would be easy to include boxes on the form asking if the filer has health insurance.
“If no, please go to line 1752 and add $750 (assumed penalty) to the taxes owed amount.” Suppose you can’t pay. Doesn’t matter; sooner or later you have to pay including all penalties and interest on any taxes not paid on time. There’s no differentiation between taxes owed when it comes to collection.
What if you checked yes when you didn’t have health insurance? Since you legally swear that all information is true upon signing the tax form, lying can have real negative consequences. If the IRS finds out, it will treat you like any taxpayer falsifying a return. Jail is a real possibility.
What if you protest by not checking any box or declaring that you believe the penalty (or tax) is unconstitutional? The IRS could use you as an example and arrest you for tax evasion. Pay the tax or stay in jail.
It’s a long way from regulating tariffs on interstate transport of goods to arresting citizens for not participating in an economic activity. But that’s the nature of a slippery slope.
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