In this Jan. 7, 2022, file photo, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry talks to reporters outside the Supreme Court after arguments about whether to allow the administration to enforce a vaccine-or-testing requirement that applies to large employers and a separate vaccine mandate for most health care workers in Washington. Credit: Evan Vucci / AP

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If you want the money, get the shot.  

That is part of President Joe Biden’s approach to vaccines. And it seems to be part of Paul LePage’s as well.

Back on Jan. 7, the Supreme Court heard several hours of arguments concerning the Biden administration’s approach to COVID-19 vaccines. The one which got all the headlines was the “Emergency Temporary Standard” issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that, effectively, would have imposed a nationwide vaccinate-or-mask mandate for 80 million workers, requiring weekly tests for those unvaccinated.

On Thursday, the court  halted that mandate, as readers of tea leaves thought it  might. I’ve written before that the proposed rule suffered from “do something-itis,” and that just because someone really, really wants something does not mean that we should damage our constitutional system.

However, there was a second case about a second mandate, which the court is allowing to proceed. And it was a little bit different. Rather than trying to impose a massive, economywide “safety standard,” it focused on health care settings. Here, Washington has a bit more constitutional authority. And they have more authority because they have all the money.    

Biden’s health care rule was issued through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It requires places receiving Medicare or Medicaid money to institute a vaccination requirement.  Which is virtually every health care provider in the country.  

If they fail to do so, no problem; the checks will just stop coming.

Meanwhile, former — and maybe once again — Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage threw his own vaccine mandate idea into the ring. He suggested Maine should require those receiving public assistance — unemployment, general assistance and other benefit programs — to get vaccinated.  

If they fail to do so, no problem; the checks will just stop coming.

It highlights the power of the purse. Our economy is a fairly complex thing, and the government — at all levels — is estimated to comprise 40 percent of our gross domestic product. So when they start attaching strings to dollars, it is pretty effective at making marionettes.  

I’ll give Biden and LePage credit for creative approaches. I am an advocate for vaccination, and would encourage everyone to receive a vaccine as long as they are medically able to do so. I’ve gotten all sorts of them from the Navy; smallpox, anthrax and probably others.  

Yet, I have concerns about changing government programs that already exist to try and accomplish unrelated objectives. It opens up an entirely new avenue for backdoor requirements outside the purview of elected legislators. Legislators who can be voted out if they go too far and anger their constituents.  

The big question in the OSHA vaccine case, asked plainly by Justices Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, was: “Who decides?”

That is really the heart at the fight about vaccine mandates. Should it be a personal decision?  Should individuals consider others in their decision making? If it remains a personal choice, how should the community — or the government — react? Can you be banned from others’ properties? Can Washington or Augusta terminate your benefits?

Or is it a community decision, enforced through elected officials? Should we look to our legislators — in Augusta and in Congress — to lead on these issues, stake out well-reasoned positions, and face the electoral consequences for their choices, whether good or bad? Should those decisions place penalties on citizens?

The suggestions from Biden and LePage speak to the realpolitik  golden rule: He who controls the gold, rules. In other words, if you want the money, get the shot.

The more famous golden rule — do unto others, as you would have them do unto you — is less coercive and more aspirational. Call me traditional, but this is the one which should win out.

COVID-19 vaccines have been available for a year, and we seemingly have neared saturation as to all who will get the shot voluntarily. With luck and grace, however, hopefully those who have not yet received it will reconsider.  

I’ll hope for the latter.

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Michael Cianchette, Opinion columnist

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.