The price of liberty, President Andrew Jackson said as he left office in 1837, is eternal vigilance by the people. As Americans, we must always protect the fundamental ingredients of liberty, such as intrinsic limits on government powers and a careful division of those powers between the federal and state governments.
We are at a crucial crossroads in our country. All across this great nation we are seeing calls to rein in the power of the federal government and to reassert our rights, as states and as a people, guaranteed by the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The rights of the people appear to have been, at best, forgotten and, at worst, ignored during the recent debate over health care reform in Washington. And the people, through the states, are pushing back.
Utah is one of a growing list of states, now numbering at least 39, proposing legislation or constitutional amendments to resist various aspects of the proposed federal takeover of the health care system.
Today, Americans are revisiting the words of James Madison, who wrote that the federal government's powers are "few and defined" while those retained by the states are "numerous and indefinite."
We understand that some government is necessary for liberty to exist. But we also know that it must be limited for liberty to thrive. This careful balance, called federalism, is difficult to achieve, but critical to maintain.
We look to history for guidance. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, certainly no conservative, discussed legislative initiatives, including health insurance mandates, with Frances Perkins, his secretary of labor. As she would later tell it, the two agreed that federal legislation in this area would pose severe constitutional problems, undermine federal-state relationships, and was best pursued at the state level. Even though FDR oversaw a vast expansion of federal power, too many in Washington today lack even his respect for federalism.
Of course, the relationship between the states and the federal government today looks much different than it did when the Constitution was ratified or during FDR's presidency. Everything is more interconnected, interactive and interdependent. But we must not abandon the principle of federalism, even as we apply it in new and different ways.
On the one hand, it is permissible for the federal government to help with funding and support while the states develop and administer certain programs. On the other hand, it is impermissible for the federal government to commandeer states to administer federal programs.
The recently enacted health insurance reform law approaches and perhaps crosses that line. It requires states to pass legislation and use their own funds to establish and operate health benefit exchanges. If states fail to do so, the secretary of health and human services will step in and run the state exchanges for them.
Nowhere in the Constitution is Congress granted the right to mandate that Americans purchase health insurance, another requirement of the new legislation. The Constitution does allow states to require such coverage of their residents, as Massachusetts has done, but that is a matter for the individual states to debate at the state level.
Utah is already at the cutting edge of health care reform. The Utah Health Exchange has become a model for increased access, transparency and competition. The possibility that this new federal law might undo Utah's own reform efforts is an affront to the founding principles of our great nation.
In challenging times, we should follow the advice of this country's founders and find the way forward by "recurring to principles." Federalism is not optional. It is a constitutional imperative and a fundamental limitation on government power. The vigilance that is the price of liberty requires that all Americans recommit ourselves to this principle.
Orrin Hatch is Utah's senior senator. Gary Herbert is the governor of Utah.