Spending Power

  • December 4, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    When the Supreme Court announced in fall 2011 that it would review the constitutionality of the landmark health care reform law, civil rights groups and constitutional experts tried to highlight the lawsuits' threat to  the expansion of Medicaid coverage -- and what it would mean if the Supreme Court adopted the states' arguements against the expansion. If the high court were to decide that Congress had overstepped its spending power by penalizing states for not joining in the expansion of Medicaid it could have a potentially profound impact on other progressive laws, such as the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

    Writing for Slate, Simon Lazarus and Dahlia Lithwick warned that if the high court were to side with the states’ argument against the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid (the states argued that they were being unconstitutionally coerced into expanding Medicaid) then other programs run by the states with federal dollars could be in jeopardy. The ACA sought to expand Medicaid coverage to adults below 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Line. In a 2011 ACS Issue Brief, Lazarus, senior counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, described the states’ arguments against the Medicaid expansion as proposing “a radical upheaval in applicable constitutional law.”

    But the National Women’s Law Center’s Emily J. Martin in an ACS Issue Brief released today argues that the majority’s spending clause analysis from the high court’s ACA opinion from late June does not pose a danger to the major federal law aimed at stopping discrimination against women – Title IX.

    Title IX, in part, states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance ….”

    Martin, vice president and general counsel at NWLC, provides great detail on why the Roberts Court’s spending clause analysis would not undermine the antidiscrimination law and also notes that even if Title IX were vulnerable to a spending clause challenge based on the ACA decision, it would still survive because it is an appropriate means for Congress to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

  • 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.

  • February 27, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The slew of states challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid to cover more of the nation’s poorest, has failed to articulate why the U.S. Supreme Court should invalidate Congress’s expansion of the popular program, SEIU and other labor groups assert in a recently filed friend-of-the-court brief.

    Plenty of attention has been given to the landmark health care reform law’s minimum coverage provision. That provision requires Americans, who can afford to do so, to purchase a minimum amount of health care insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty on their income tax returns. Indeed this recent panel sponsored by SCOTUSblog and BloombergLaw focused almost entirely on the legal challenge to the minimum coverage provision, which in all fairness is the law’s integral provision.

    But the amicus brief in Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services filed by SEIU and Change to Win, a federation of four labor unions, argues that if the challengers’ argument were adopted by the court it would greatly limit the ability of the Congress to tax and spend for the general welfare. (SEIU is the country’s largest healthcare union, and the unions that make up Change to Win represent more than 5 million workers.)

    The labor groups assert that the states challenging the expansion of Medicaid are not questioning the constitutionality of Medicaid, but are trying to scuttle lawmakers’ expansion of the popular program. The challengers, the labor groups argue, claim that they are being unconstitutionally coerced into offering the expanded Medicaid program (primarily because Medicaid is so popular that the states could not opt-out of offering it), but fail “to identify some constitutionally relevant and judicially manageable distinction between the pre-existing federal spending program and the expanded program they challenge.”

    The states’ challenge to the expansion of Medicaid, which is also important to the law’s goal of providing more health care insurance to the tens of millions of uninsured, is aimed directly at “Congress’ power to spend federal money on those programs (and only those programs) that Congress deem worthy of support,” the labor groups’ brief states.