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If Republicans Love States’ Rights So Much, Why Do They Want to Be President?

Whatever their differences, the leading Republican candidates all swear that they love states’ rights. If elected president, Rick Perry vows to “try to make Washington as inconsequential as I can.” Mitt Romney declares his faith in the Constitution, which, he says, declares that the government “that would deal primarily with citizens at the local level would be local and state government, not the federal government.” Michele Bachmann “respect[s] the rights of states to come up with their own answers and their own solutions to compete with one another.” With lots of help from the Tea Party, the Tenth Amendment which, not so long ago was familiar mainly to constitutional lawyers and scholars, may now be as popular as the First or the Second. But, what this resurgence of federalism overlooks is not just the historical consolidation of federal power but also the inanity of attempts to reverse it.

For most of U.S. history, the primacy of federalism was taken for granted. Except during major wars, states exerted far more power over the daily lives of their residents than did any of the three branches of a national government located in a swampy river city on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard that most Americans had never visited. In the nineteenth century, as the historian Gary Gerstle explains, states funded canals, highways, and railroads. They decided which groups could vote and which could not. Some tried to regulate working hours. Others outlawed a variety of private acts—interracial marriage, drinking, and theater-going. In 1837, Illinois even forbade “playing at ball or flying of kites” as public nuisances.

All these policies fell under the legal sanction of “the police power,” which one influential Massachusetts judge in 1851 defined broadly as insuring the “good and welfare of the Commonwealth.” For its part, the Supreme Court, until after World War I, rather consistently ruled that the celebrated protections of the Bill of Rights—from the freedom of speech and the press to the right to a speedy trial—applied only to acts by the federal government and not to those of the states.

But, by the middle of the twentieth century, this arrangement no longer served the needs or desires of most Americans. During the Great Depression, state revenues, based mainly on property taxes, plummeted. The federal government stepped in to provide relief, and citizens everywhere began to count on Washington to keep the economy afloat and their Social Security checks arriving promptly. Then World War II and the cold war bound Americans to a national-security state that financed education for veterans and interstate highways as well as aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons. In the 1960s and ’70s, Congress passed laws to safeguard the civil and voting rights of every citizen, regardless of where he or she might live. Policies to protect the environment and regulate hazards at the workplace further diminished the sway of state governments. The Supreme Court, even with a conservative majority, has done little to reverse these changes.

Yet, states’ rights never lost its appeal to that minority of Americans who are ideologically committed to lambasting the federal state as both overweening and ineffective. (It should come as no surprise that these conservatives were so alarmed at the emergency measures taken by the Bush and Obama administrations to address the financial meltdown of 2008: the formation and rapid growth of the Tea Party was the predictable result.) However, any Republican elected to the White House in 2012 will find it impossible to lead a headlong charge back to the past, and not just because of the difficulty of undoing a half-century of tradition and Supreme Court precedent.

Voters unhappy with the inability of the federal government to restore prosperity may like the sound of “states’ rights.” But how many would trust their governors and state legislators to pay their Medicare and Social Security checks on time and at current or higher levels? How many really want 50 separate immigration policies or 50 different standards for what constitutes clean air and clean water? Or the possibility that state, seeking to lure business away from its neighbors, could cut the minimum wage in half and not requiring employers to pay for overtime?

When you look more broadly at their promises, the GOP hopefuls reveal the emptiness of their own rhetoric. Bachmann, never a paragon of consistency, supports a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, as well as the right of individual states to legalize it. In 2007, before Romney got in trouble for his Massachusetts health care law, he predicted, “that all these states … who follow the path that we pursued will find it’s the best path, and we’ll end up with a nation that’s taken a mandate approach.” Rick Perry favors federal action to stop gay marriage and restrict abortion—and, last month, asked President Obama to speed up aid to stop wildfires from burning up whole sections of his vast state. Like a lot of other Americans, these ambitious conservatives like to rail against Washington in the abstract but cannot imagine how the nation would operate without a strong central government. And the specifics of their smaller hypocrisies are underscored by one giant irony: They’re all running for president.

The U.S. has long ceased to be a country in which most people look to their state instead of to the national government to address and solve their most vital problems. State pride is pretty rare these days, except for residents and alumni who dress in the old-school colors and root hard for a college football or basketball team from a major public university.

Of course, state governments still perform a vital role in education and economic development and can still be “laboratories of democracy,” sites for testing out new policies that aren’t yet ready for national consumption. Progressives who cheered when New York legalized gay marriage and look forward to the day when Vermont begins operating the single-payer health care system it passed this spring can hardly object, at least in principle, when red states pass laws they abhor. But, as an alternative philosophy of governance in a modern nation, states’ rights is very wrong. In fact, it’s ridiculous.

By: Michael Kazin, The New Republic, September 20, 2011

September 21, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Economy, Education, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideology, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 11th Circuit’s Affordable Care Act Decision Cannot Be Squared With The Constitution

The key passage in today’s opinion striking down part of the Affordable Care Act appears on page 113, where the two judge majority explains how they will determine whether this law is constitutional:

In answering whether the federal government may exercise this asserted power to issue a mandate for Americans to purchase health insurance from private companies, we next examine a number of issues: (1) the unprecedented nature of the individual mandate; (2) whether Congress’s exercise of its commerce authority affords sufficient and meaningful limiting principles; and (3) the far-reaching implications for our federalist structure.

This is one way to evaluate whether a law is constitutional, but a better way is to ask whether the law can be squared with text of the Constitution. The Constitution provides that Congress may “regulate Commerce…among the several states,” and the very first Supreme Court decision interpreting this language made clear that this power is “plenary,” meaning that Congress may choose whatever means it wishes to regulate interstate marketplaces such as the national health care market, so long as it does not violate another textual provision of the Constitution.

A law requiring most Americans to either carry insurance or pay slightly more taxes clearly regulates the national market for health care. It determines how people will finance health care purchases. It lowers the cost of health insurance. And it protects that market from something known as an “adverse selection death spiral.” So that should have been the end of the case. The Court cites no provision of the Constitution limiting Congress’ authority to pass this law because no such provision exists.

Instead, it imposes two extra-textual limits on national leaders’ ability to solve national problems. If the law is somehow “unprecedented,” and if a decision upholding the law lacks vague and undetermined “meaningful limit[s]” on Congress’ authority that somehow upset the balance between federal and state power, then the law must be struck down even if the Constitution’s text says otherwise.

Yet even if these two novel limits are taken seriously, the court’s analysis still makes no sense. For one thing, the law is only “unprecedented” in the sense that it preferred a market-driven solution to the problem of widespread uninsurance over more government driven solutions such as Medicare. The truth is that Congress already requires nearly all Americans to purchase health insurance — and they have done so for many years. Every year the federal government collects taxes which are in no way optional. A portion of these taxes are then spent to buy health insurance for the elderly (Medicare) for the poor (Medicaid) and for children (SCHIP).

So the only real question in this case is whether the government is required to first take your money and then buy health coverage for you, or whether the Constitution allows Congress to cut out the middle man.

The Court is also simply wrong to claim that a decision upholding the ACA would necessarily mean that there are no limits on federal power. The Constitution does not simply allow Congress to regulate commercial markets. It establishes that, in Justice Scalia’s words, “where Congress has the authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective.”

Scalia’s rule is important because the ACA doesn’t just require people to carry insurance, it also eliminates one of the insurance industry’s most abusive practices — denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions. This ban cannot function if patients are free to enter and exit the insurance market at will. If patients can wait until they get sick to buy insurance, they will drain all the money out of an insurance plan that they have not previously paid into, leaving nothing left for the rest of the plan’s consumers.

Because the ACA’s regulation of the national insurance market cannot function without a requirement that nearly every American carry insurance. this requirement is clearly constitutional under Justice Scalia’s statement that Congress possess “every power needed” to make it’s economic regulations effective. Moreover, upholding the Affordable Care Act under Justice Scalia’s rule would require a court to do nothing more than hold that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. There is no federal law which depends upon mandatory broccoli purchases, for example, in order to function properly in the same way that the ACA’s preexisting conditions provision can only function properly in the presence of an insurance coverage requirement. Accordingly, the court’s concern that upholding the law would destroy any limits on federal power is unwarranted.

As a final note, it is likely that conservatives will tout the fact that Judge Hull was appointed by President Clinton in the same way that progressives touted Bush-appointed Judge Sutton’s decision rejecting an ACA challenge. The two judges are not comparable, however. Judge Sutton is a former Scalia clerk who stood on the vanguard of the conservative legal movement for many years. Judge Hull, by contrast, is a compromise nominee Clinton selected in order to overcome obstruction from the Republican-controlled Senate.

Hull has a long record of conservative criminal and individual rights decisions. We now know that she is also very far to the right questions of federal power. That is unfortunate, but it also places her well to the right of some of the Supreme Court’s most conservative members.

 

By: Ian Millhiser, U. S. News and World Report, August 12, 2011

August 12, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Commerce Clause, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Consumers, Democracy, Democrats, GOP, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Individual Mandate, Insurance Companies, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Pre-Existing Conditions, President Obama, Republicans, SCOTUS, Supreme Court, Under Insured, Uninsured | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conservative Legal Luminaries Concede: The Individual Mandate Is No Unique Threat To Freedom, After All

As summarized one month ago in a post here on Jonathan Chait’s blog, conservatives reacted with fury to an article I wrote for Slate in which I pointed out that two major components of House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s Roadmap for America’s Future closely resemble the much-demonized “individual mandate” in the Affordable Care Act. In particular, I noted that the ACA provision requiring health insurance has precisely the same kind of impact on individual purchasing decisions as Ryan’s roadmap, and is, if anything, less coercive than the Roadmap proposal to provide a tax credit to individuals who purchase health insurance, as a replacement for the current exclusion from income of employer-sponsored health insurance. The ACA imposes a tax penalty on individuals who choose not to purchase health insurance. The Ryan Roadmap, on the other hand, provides a tax credit to individuals who choose to purchase health insurance—a technical distinction, I suggested, without an economic or other real-world difference.

National Review, the Weekly Standard, and Hot Air raised various objections to this point, which was seconded by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post and by Jonathan in TNR. But recent oral arguments before federal appeals courts hearing legal challenges to the ACA should quiet such protests once and for all. In these arguments, two of the most celebrated members of the Right’s legal elite acknowledged that there is no daylight between the ACA mandate-plus-penalty and a Ryan-type tax credit universally conceded to be constitutional.

The first instance of this occurred on June 1, when Sixth Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton, sitting on a three-judge panel in Cincinnati in a case brought by the conservative advocacy group Thomas More Law Center, floated the hypothetical idea of a tax credit alternative to the ACA approach. The Law Center’s attorney, Robert Muise, acknowledged that “you could provide a credit for health insurance, there’s no prohibition on that.” To which Judge Sutton responded:

You think it would be just as coercive to say to people, everybody pays the same additional tax, it’s a health care tax, everybody pays it and the only people that don’t pay it, i.e. get a credit, are those with insurance, you think that would be as coercive?

Muise contended that a tax credit was different because it encouraged activity—namely the purchase of health insurance—whereas the ACA provision penalized a “failure to act.” But Sutton didn’t buy it:

If that’s your view, then just pay the penalty, pay the penalty, don’t get insurance, don’t be forced to do anything, in that sense, if you think they’re equivalent, in that sense, no one is forced to do anything, because the economic incentives are the same in both settings, you can’t say the law requires you to buy it, the law just penalizes you if you don’t.

Judge Sutton is not the first person to observe that the ACA’s allegedly freedom-destroying mandate is operationally indistinguishable from commonplace tax incentive provisions. But, apart from having actual decisional authority on the matter, Sutton enters this space with formidable ideological and professional credentials. One of the first batch of appeals court nominees picked by President George W. Bush, Sutton, though only 42 years old, earned his front rank position as the energizer bunny of the Rehnquist Court’s late 1990’s drive to shrink Congress’ domestic regulatory authority in the name of “federalism.” As a lawyer, Sutton argued and won, usually by bitterly contested 5-4 margins, a raft of decisions striking or narrowing provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Violence Against Women Act, the Clean Water Act, and regulations implementing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, among others. He famously once told Legal Times, “I really believe in this federalism stuff.” Sutton’s professional standing was unquestioned; appointed by the Supreme Court in 2001 to represent a prison inmate, Sutton won a unanimous decision and unusually explicit praise from its author, Justice Ruth Ginsburg, for “his able representation.”

Of course, Sutton’s verbal acknowledgement that the ACA individual mandate is not uniquely coercive, emphatic though it appeared, is no guarantee that he will not strike down a law that Republican orthodoxy demonizes as a drastic expansion of federal power. Nevertheless, his on-the-record statement leaves the case against the ACA mandate resting at best on a hypertechnical foundation lacking in substance.

The second acknowledgement of the ACA mandate’s kinship with uncontroversial tax incentives occurred a week later in Atlanta, at the June 8 argument before a panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the case against ACA brought by 26 Republican state attorneys general and governors. During the argument, the Republicans’ counsel, Paul Clement, attempted to sound a reasonable note. He said, “There’s lots of different ways that Congress could incentivize people to get to the exact same result. They could have passed a new tax and called it a tax, and then they could have given people a tax credit for paying for qualifying insurance.”

Again, Clement’s observation was not original. But in addition to being the Republican opponents’ lawyer, Clement also served—with universally acknowledged distinction—as George W. Bush’s Solicitor General. Recently, he made headlines by resigning his 7 figure-per-year partnership in the Atlanta-based firm, King & Spalding, when the firm precipitously withdrew from representing his client, the House of Representatives, to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, aka DOMA.

The significance of Clement’s functional equivalence concession was not lost on Eleventh Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus. Marcus, originally named a district judge by President Ronald Reagan and subsequently to his current appellate position by President Bill Clinton, drew a logical implication subtly different from Judge Sutton’s observation that the ACA mandate is not uniquely coercive, but one that is potentially even more troublesome for the ACA opponents’ case. “Isn’t that just another way,” he asked rhetorically:

“[O]f saying they [Congress] could have done what they did better? More efficaciously, more directly, and they regulated perhaps inefficaciously, maybe even foolishly, but if it’s rational, doesn’t my job stop at the water’s edge? Isn’t it for the legislative branch to make those kinds of calculations and determinations?”

No constitutional lawyer could mistake where Judge Marcus was heading. How is it possible, he was saying, for courts to dictate which of two methods Congress must choose to implement its constitutionally enumerated powers, when both methods generate “the exact same result?” Judicial micro-managing on such a granular level, Marcus knows, violates the fundamental, black-letter standard established nearly two centuries ago by Chief Justice John Marshall. In his iconic 1819 decision, McCulloch v. Maryland, Marshall broadly interpreted the constitutional grant of authority to Congress “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution” its enumerated powers: “Let the end be legitimate,” he wrote in words memorized by first-year law students, “let it be within the scope of the constitution, all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional.”

To be sure, no one who listened to this Eleventh Circuit argument could predict the panels’ outcome any more confidently than could those who heard the previous week’s Sixth Circuit argument. But these unequivocal statements, by two of conservativism’s most eminent legal luminaries, that the ACA individual mandate is not a unique threat to Americans’ liberty after all, surely drain much of the juice from opponents’ legal case, and, ultimately, from their political case as well.

By: Simon Lazarus, Public Policy Counsel to the National Senior Citizens Law Center, Guest Post, The New Republic, June 17, 2011

June 26, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Consumers, Democracy, Freedom, GOP, Government, Health Reform, Ideology, Individual Mandate, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pandering To The Extremists: Mitt Romney In A Time Warp

There was something almost quaint about Mitt Romney’s speech on health careThursday, as if we were watching early sound footage of Theodore Roosevelt.

Republicans no longer talk about the virtues of government social programs, especially if they intend to run for president in a party that now considers Medicare the first cousin of socialism. Yet there was Mr. Romney defending a mandate to buy health insurance as passionately as in any similar speech by President Obama.

When he was governor of Massachusetts, of course, Mr. Romney created a health care system very similar to the one championed by the president. He could have walked away from it, as he did in the 2008 presidential race, or fecklessly repudiated it, as Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, did in the Republican debate last week regarding his earlier support for a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gases.

This time, to his credit, Mr. Romney is standing by his record, perhaps hoping there might still be a few primary voters who appreciate candor — assuming he doesn’t pivot again in the heat of the right-dominated primaries.

Tearing it down might help him politically, he said, but “it wouldn’t be honest.” He said he did what he “thought would be right for the people of my state.” A mandate to buy insurance, he said, makes sense to prevent people from becoming free riders, getting emergency care at enormous cost to everyone else.

Where he went off the rails, however, was in not acknowledging that that same logic applies to the nation. Mr. Romney tried desperately to pivot from praising his handiwork in Massachusetts to trashing the very same idea as adapted by Mr. Obama. His was an efficient and effective state policy; Mr. Obama’s was “a power grab by the federal government.”

He tried to justify this with a history lesson on federalism and state experimentation, but, in fact, said nothing about what makes Massachusetts different from its neighbors or any other state. And why would he immediately repeal the Obama mandate if elected president? Because Mr. Obama wants a “government takeover of health care,” while all he wanted was to insure the uninsured.

That distinction makes no sense, and the disconnect undermines the foundation of Mr. Romney’s candidacy. At heart, he is still the kind of old-fashioned northeastern Republican who believes in government’s role while trying to conceal it under a thin, inauthentic coating of conservative outrage. But in its blind abhorrence of President Obama, the party has also left behind former centrists like Mr. Romney, and it is unlikely that any amount of frantic pandering about the free market will change that. He is trapped not only between the poles of his party but between eras, a candidate caught in an electoral time warp.

By: The New York Times, Editorial, May 12, 2011

May 12, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Exploratory Presidential Committees, GOP, Government, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Individual Mandate, Liberty, Medicare, Mitt Romney, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Swing Voters, Tea Party, Uninsured, Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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