Economic inequality

  • July 18, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    To help states more effectively provide support to individuals while they seek employment, the Obama administration is allowing state officials to seek waivers of some requirements of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

    But The New York Times reports the administration’s move has stirred consternation among some conservative lawmakers. In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), complained that Congress did not intend for states to be provided “waivers of TANF work requirements.”

    In a July 12 statement, HHS Acting Assistant Secretary George Sheldon says the Social Security Act provides the department the “authority to grant states waivers of certain TANF provisions for the purpose of testing new approaches to meeting the goals of the TANF statute. The Secretary is interested in using her authority to allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.”

    The Times, however, notes that conservative lobbying groups, which have fought to eliminate a social safety net, primarily by supporting economic policy that starves government of revenue by slashing taxes on the nation’s wealthiest, are decrying the administration’s move as detrimental to a program that has allegedly “lifted millions out of poverty.”

    Such a claim is as bizarre as it is laughable.

    The number of people now in poverty is larger than at any time since the Great Depression. As many economists have noted the nation’s middle class is shrinking, poverty is growing, and the only people who are faring better are the superrich.

  • July 16, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Although it can be argued that the state governors threatening to forgo implementing the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid have a skewed idea of state sovereignty, likely closer to the truth is that most of the governors are carrying on a tawdry tradition of denying help to the most vulnerable.

    S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, Fla. Gov. Rick Scott, La. Gov. Bobby Jindal and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have all vowed that their states will not expand their Medicaid programs to millions of uninsured, even though pursuant to the ACA the federal government will cover most of the costs of implementing the expansion. The New York Times reports that the expansion of Medicaid would add “17 million people to the rolls, accounting for half of all uninsured people expected to gain coverage nationwide.”

    All those governors have offered typical, but disingenuous complaints that the federal government is forcing the states to spend money they don’t have. They also predictably paint the federal government as pushing wasteful domestic programs or offering more free things to people.

    It is the same tired, offensive and often racially tinged complaint that conservative politicians have been peddling for decades in their nonstop attack on government.

    Gov. Scott called the ACA’s Medicaid provision “a massive entitlement expansion,” and Gov. Rick Perry (pictured) who presides over a state with the largest number of uninsured said the Affordable Care Act “would make Texas “a mere appendage of the federal government.”

    University of Maryland School of Law professor Sherrilyn Ifill in an opinion piece for CNN said the governors are carrying on a long tradition of not doing a terribly good job of governing.

    “These elected leaders are following a longstanding tradition in American politics of Southern states acting against the best interest of their residents,” she writes.

  • July 11, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The right continues to wage a tiresome campaign against even modest efforts to repair the nation’s tattered social safety net.

    Although only symbolic, since it won’t go anywhere in the Senate, the House of Representatives passed a measure to repeal the landmark health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  

    It was not the first time the House has voted on such a measure. In fact the chamber has voted more than 30 times to repeal the ACA. The right-wing controlled House wants to remind everyone that it cares little about the tens of millions of uninsured Americans.

    House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) took to the floor during today’s vote to blast the House leadership’s continued obsession with destroying health care reform.

    “If this bill were to pass, insurance companies could once again discriminate against 17 million children with pre-existing conditions. If it were to pass, 30 million Americans would lose their health insurance coverage. It would take away $651 each from 5.3 million seniors in the Medicare ‘donut hole,’ making their prescription drugs more expensive,” Hoyer (pictured) said.

    He also noted that “6.6 million young adults under 26 would be forced off their parents’ plans, left to face a tough job market with the added pressure of being uninsured.”

    All of the Republican’s repeal bills, as Hoyer highlighted, contained no measures to help the uninsured.

  • July 10, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While liberals continue to ponderously ponder how to refute the right’s method of constitutional interpretation called originalism, the right continues to advance a simplistic and destructive story that the Constitution is all about severely limiting the federal government’s reach. 

    For far too long liberals have obsessed over methods of constitutional interpretation, leaving rightists to advance the constitutional storyline, which says the nation’s governing document only promotes individualism, limited government, and of course Christianity.

    As law professor and historian William E. Forbath recently noted in an op-ed for The New York Times liberals have far too often shrugged their shoulders at this narrative, claiming that “rights and wrongs of economic life” are not addressed by the Constitution, but instead through politics.

    “That’s a major failing,” Forbath (pictured) writes, “because there is a venerable rival to constitutional laissez-faire: a rich distributive tradition of constitutional law and politics, rooted in the framers’ generation. None other than James Madison was among its prominent expounders – in his draft of the Virginia Constitution, he included rights to free education and public land.”

    In a more expansive piece for the book, The Constitution in 2020, Forbath explores the “historical heft” of a century-long effort “to make good on the constitutional justice of livelihoods and social and economic rights ….”

    For example, Abraham Lincoln and other founders of the Republican Party argued that equal rights also included “a fair distribution of initial endowments,” and FDR in his State of the Union proposing a Second Bill of Rights, said the government “owes to everyone an avenue to possess himself of a portion of [the nation’s wealth] sufficient for his needs, through his own work.”

    Moreover, Forbath noted, African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement strived to “craft a broader social rights agenda,” including the right to a decent income. During the Civil Rights movement, the federal courts took note of the efforts in “undoing the exclusion of black women from welfare rolls,” he continued.

    The Supreme Court in its 1970 Goldberg v. Kelly opinion, said, “From its founding the Nation’s basic commitment has been to foster the dignity and well-being of all persons within its borders. We have come to recognize that forces not within the control of the poor contribute to their poverty.”

  • July 6, 2012

    by Samantha Berkovits

    University of Texas law Professor William E. Forbath calls for liberals to champion a stronger interpretation of the Constitution that aims to squelch inequality. Those tempted to take up this cause, which Forbath presented in an op-ed in today’s New York Times, may find themselves facing an unfriendly battlefield, but Forbath is confident that history is on their side.

    The constitutional argument for equality may seem inherent in a document meant to “promote the general Welfare.” However, the recent victory for liberals in the Affordable Care Act case was ensconced in nearly 200 pages of opinion, with much of the language holding the potential to destroy the legacy of the New Deal, with rough consequences for an American public already facing a dangerous economic landscape. Forbath writes, “Even the new doctrine that the majority adopted may hobble efforts to condition federal grants-in-aid on compliance with national goals, like child-care assistance for the working poor.”

    Conservatives, Forbath notes, would have the public believe that the goal of the Constitution is to protect and establish “individualism, small government, godliness and private property.” In response to this “crackpot originalism” liberals have been playing defense, when they should have been on the offensive. According to Forbath, all the necessary tools to present a case for a Constitution that allows the government to, in the words of Justice Ginsburg, “regulate the national economy in the interest of those who labor to sustain it” can be found in American history.