There was one question the Obama administration knew they had to answer going into today's oral argument: If Congress can force people to do this, what can't they do? Here is how Justice Alito asked the question:
Could you just -- before you move on, could you express your limiting principle as succinctly as you possibly can? Congress can force people to purchase a product where the failure to purchase the product has a substantial effect on interstate commerce -- if what? If this is part of a larger regulatory scheme? Was that it? Was there anything more?
Here is how Solicitor General Don Verrilli answered the question:
We got two and they are -- they are different. Let me state them. First with respect to the comprehensive scheme. When Congress is regulating -- is enacting a comprehensive scheme that it has the authority to enact that the Necessary and Proper Clause gives it the authority to include regulation, including a regulation of this kind, if it is necessary to counteract risks attributable to the scheme itself that people engage in economic activity that would undercut the scheme. It's like -- it's very much like Wickard in that respect, very much like Raich in that respect.
With respect to the -- with respect to the -- considering the Commerce Clause alone and not embedded in the comprehensive scheme, our position is that Congress can regulate the method of payment by imposing an insurance requirement in advance of the time in which the -- the service is consumed when the class to which that requirement applies either is or virtually is most certain to be in that market when the timing of one's entry into that market and what you will need when you enter that market is uncertain and when -- when you will get the care in that market, whether you can afford to pay for it or not and shift costs to other market participants.
So those -- those are our views as to - those are the principles we are advocating for and it's, in fact, the conjunction of the two of them here that makes this, we think, a strong case under the Commerce Clause..
If Verrilli's response sounds like incomprehensible gibberish to you, don't worry. That's because it is. Obamacare's individual mandate is an unprecedented and unbounded expansion of Congressional power. If Congress can do this, then it can do anything. Today's oral argument makes it sound like the five conservative justice will find that there are limits to Congressional power.