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Salem News - Tierney Weighs in on Health Care Debate

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As the Supreme Court of the United States finished its third day of hearings on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, legal scholars, lawmakers on Capitol Hill, protesters, news outlets and millions of everyday citizens kept a close watch.

They included Congressman John Tierney, who said in an interview yesterday that he's confident in the legitimacy of the law that would require most Americans to purchase health insurance -- but he's far from certain how the right-leaning court might rule.

"If you look at the precedent and look at the case, it's pretty clear that the law is perfectly constitutional and legal," said Tierney, a lawyer from Salem. "The justices, I think, would have to go to acrobatic lengths to prove it's not, but that's not beyond them. They don't always follow the script you would expect.

"I'm not comfortable that they'll end up (upholding the law) because things are so political and polarized today," he said. "But if they want to be consistent (with precedent), they have to be consistent here."

The big question -- among many -- that the court must decide is whether or not it is constitutional for the U.S. government to mandate that most Americans be required to purchase health insurance by 2014 or face a penalty.

The law's challengers, which include 26 states and other parties, argue that the government is overstepping its authority.

Government lawyers, however, have argued that Congress has the right under the interstate commerce clause of the constitution to mandate insurance in order to stem the crippling and escalating cost of health care.

The mandate, which is the part most opposed by Republicans now, was actually the piece that persuaded many Massachusetts Republicans to support this state's sweeping health care reform, passed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney in 2006, Tierney said.

"It was used as a way to get a bipartisan vote in Massachusetts, to get Republicans on board," he said, adding that the legislation was even endorsed by the conservative political think tank The Heritage Foundation.

If the mandate is deemed unconstitutional -- which would throw into doubt the entire fiscal structure that holds the plan together -- Tierney fears the worst.

"The ramifications are 30 million to 50 million more people uninsured," he said. "I don't think anybody wants that."

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