ENSIGN PROMOTES TENTHER OPT-OUT…. You’ve no doubt heard about “Tenthers.” They’re the conservative Republicans, with a few too many adherents in Congress, who reject the federal government’s authority to do much of anything based on a long-discredited, right-wing interpretation of the 10th Amendment.

Sen. John Ensign (R) of Nevada, the scandal-plagued conservative, apparently wants to look out for these Tenthers, who may get health coverage from Democrats’ reform efforts. Ensign — best known as the senator whose parents paid off his mistress — made the case yesterday that Tenthers take constitutional law more seriously than sane people, and should therefore be excluded from individual mandates.

“We’ve allowed exceptions for religious and various other reasons. But some people hold the Constitution pretty high in their lives, and if they believe that this thing is unconstitutional, and they then say, ‘I choose not to have health insurance, I’m not going to buy it,’ we could be subjecting those very people who conscientiously — because they believe in the U.S. Constitution — we could be subjecting them to fines or the interpretation of a judge, potentially, all the way up to imprisonment. That seems to me to be a problem.”

Ensign wasn’t kidding. His basic pitch is that if you genuinely believe a law is unconstitutional, you should be exempt from following it, even if your genuine beliefs are ridiculous. Amanda Terkel did a nice job taking this absurd thinking apart, including a helpful reference to an Antonin Scalia ruling.

I’d only add that after three days of Senate Finance Committee hearings on reform, Ensign is proving himself to be hopelessly ridiculous. His big contribution to the debate yesterday was pushing an amendment that would force Nancy-Ann DeParle, the White House health reform director, from her job, unless the Senate voted specifically to let her advise the president on reform policy. DeParle, Ensign insisted, is a “czar,” which is bad. Or something. (The committee rejected Ensign’s proposal, but every Republican on the panel, including Olympia Snowe, supported it.)

Remember, as recently as last year, before his sex scandal, Ensign considered himself a likely presidential candidate in 2012.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.