Broccoli Gets Respect in Health-Care Arguments

Broccoli, the nutrient-rich vegetable derided by President George H.W. Bush two decades ago, found respect at the U.S. Supreme Court during debate on the federal health-care law.

The often-steamed cultivar, part of the cabbage family, was mentioned eight times yesterday, as Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts and Solictor General Donald Verrilli argued about the reach of insurance mandates during a second day of debate on the law pushed by President Barack Obama. Bush, in 1990, declared “I don’t like broccoli.”

The United Fresh Produce Association, a trade group for the fruit and vegetable industry, welcomed the attention without weighing in on the debate, an issue in the 2012 campaign.

“From banned in the White House to the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Ray Gilmer, spokesman for the group. “Broccoli is getting respect.”

Eating more broccoli may lower medical costs because of its wealth of anti-oxidants, abundant Vitamin C and presence of cancer-fighting nutrients such as sulforaphane and diindolylmethane, Gilmer said.

Broccoli has been part of the health-care debate since at least late 2010, when U.S. District Judge C. Roger Vinson asked David B. Rivkin, outside counsel who argued against the law in December 2010, whether the government’s view would allow regulation of any behavior with an economic impact.

“They can decide how much broccoli everyone should eat each week?” Vinson asked at arguments in Pensacola, Florida.

Broccoli, Cadillacs

The vegetable reference returned in May 2011, when a three-judge panel in Richmond, Virginia, was asked to consider whether requiring Americans to buy insurance is the same as ordering them to buy broccoli or a Cadillac.

Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh has suggested the health-care law means consumers can be forced to buy broccoli.

Scalia and Roberts picked up the references to broccoli as they questioned the requirement that consumers buy insurance or face a tax. Along the same lines, they said food is something everyone has to buy sooner or later. “Therefore, you can make people buy broccoli,” Scalia said, challenging the arguments made by the government’s lawyer.

Verrilli, defending the law, said health care and broccoli differ because medical services, unlike food, often are needed unpredictably and often involuntarily.

The justices and lawyers yesterday also used bologna, bread, cows, wheat, dairy, farms, geese, meat, milk and soup in making arguments.

Bush banned the vegetable from Air Force One and the White House in early 1990, telling reporters he disliked the food since he was “a little kid and my mother made me eat it.”

“I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!” he declared in March 1990.

California broccoli growers then shipped 10,000 pounds of the vegetable to the White House, which was donated to homeless shelters and soup kitchens for Washington’s needy, according to the Associated Press.

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