President Biden’s “tailpipe rule,” intended to force Americans into electric vehicles, despite their own needs and preferences, is nothing new. The thinking behind it goes back to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)—and broccoli.
We can’t say we weren’t warned.
The subject came up before the United States Supreme Court in 2012, when the Affordable Care Act was challenged. At issue was the Obamacare “individual mandate,” which forced Americans to purchase a government-approved insurance policy, whether or not it fit their needs. Obama administration attorneys argued that the individual mandate was for the individual’s own good.
As Politico pointed out at the time, “It’s the toughest question the administration is likely to face: If Congress can require Americans to buy health insurance, can it force them to buy broccoli, General Motors cars, a private retirement account or any other product lawmakers think up?”
What was a hypothetical question a decade ago is a serious policy proposal now: Americans must be forced out of their gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles, the Biden administration says. As the Wall Street Journal explained, “make no mistake, this isn’t about clean air. This is about forcing auto makers to produce more EVs that consumers will have no choice but to buy since there will be few gas-powered vehicles left.”
The rule would “require at least 54% of new vehicles sold in the U.S. to be electric by 2030 and as many as two of every three by 2032,” according to the Associated Press.
Of course, the government wasn’t so blatant about it in 2012, when Justices challenged the Solicitor General on the broccoli issue.
“The government is not standing before the court and saying, ‘We have the power to make individuals buy some good they wouldn’t otherwise consume,’” Katyal responded. “The government’s point is everyone consumes health care. It’s a fact of our mortality.”
He even offered assurances that the Bill of Rights would be a safeguard against overreach.
“The Bill of Rights will be a stop to any sort of ‘The government can force you to eat broccoli’” argument,” Katyal said.
Now, however, the EPA is clear. “This is a future for everyone,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan contends. In other words, eat your broccoli, and buy your government car.
How did this benevolent tyranny work out for the health care industry? Did the individual mandate result in fixing our health care system—keeping patients out of emergency rooms and lowering health care costs for everyone?
Clearly not. Emergency rooms are still full, the costs of health care have skyrocketed, and Americans are less healthy, not healthier, with the ACA in place.
The courts did indeed find the individual mandate unconstitutional—as a rule. The legislation only survived by Chief Justice John Roberts reconstruing the mandate penalty as a tax.
C.S. Lewis observed, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.”
If we fail to stop the tailpipe rule, then we empower those moral busybodies even more. This is the brute force application of policy preferences—forcing choices onto consumers. And like the ACA, the result will be disastrous—it won’t be millions of Americans happily motoring to work and back in electric vehicles; most of us can’t afford them. Instead, we’ll increase pressure on the poor, who have to drive longer distances to work and who are priced out of the electric vehicle market. We’ll put pressure on a grid that’s not ready for it, and gas-powered vehicles will become stupidly expensive.
We’ll side with President George H.W. Bush on this one; he famously noted, “I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!”
The federal government should not force consumer choices on us—not even if it thinks they are for our own good. That’s even more true for electric vehicles.