On his first day as president, John Edwards would take the gloves off to tear a piece from the U.S. Constitutionall in the name of health care reform.

If elected, Edwards says, he’ll give Congress six months to enact universal health care, effective July 20, 2009. But just in case, he’ll submit a bill on Inauguration Day that if there’s no new law by July 20, then members of Congress, plus his and their top staffers (including his cabinet), would lose their health coverage. “There’s no excuse for politicians in Washington having health care when you don’t have health care,” Edwards declares in a new Iowa TV ad.

Could he do that? The 27th Amendment appears to say no, at least as far as Congress is concerned. It states: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” The amendment has a long andfrom North Carolina’s point of viewdistinguished history. Proposed by James Madison in 1789, it was based on a resolution adopted a year earlier in Hillsborough, where the first North Carolina ratification convention rejected the Constitution. Congress’ enactment of the Bill of Rights turned North Carolina around. But Congress didn’t include the pay amendment, which languished until a renewed push succeeded in 1992.

The idea is constitutional, the Edwards team responded when scholars objected. The purpose of the amendment is to stop Congress from raising its own pay, not cutting it.

“But if someone wants to go to court over politicians’ health benefits,” a campaign spokesman added, “that is a fight President Edwards is willing to have.”