Barriers to Fixing the Social Safety Net: Roberts Court’s Affinity for Corporate Interests

July 3, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

Despite upholding the Affordable Care Act, corporate America continues its winning ways before the nation’s highest court.

Specifically, the Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s biggest lobbyist for business interests has “prevailed in 68 percent of its cases before the Roberts Court,” writes Neil Weare for the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC). He adds that the Chamber’s “success has grown significantly since the stable Rehnquist Court, when it was just 56” percent.

In close cases, Weare says “Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito have become the Chamber’s strongest champions.” Roberts has sided with the Chamber 84 percent of the time; Alito has sided with it 92 percent of the time.

“In sum,” Weare concludes, “the October 2011 Term yet again demonstrates the roaring success of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has had before conservative Justices on the Roberts Court.”

The trend also shows liberals are making little headway in reversing the decades-long movement to destroy the nation’s social safety. While poverty continues to grow, and a small group of outlandishly wealthy people continues to consolidate its power, all three branches of the federal government, not to mention a slew of Republican-controlled statehouses, seem forever beholden to the wealthy few.

The Affordable Care Act, which the high court narrowly upheld, and did so by placing limits on Congress’s spending power, is also under attack by right-wing politicos who are bent on hampering even moderate efforts to create a decent social safety net in a wealthy country.

As noted here, Republican governors are loudly proclaiming they’ll work to undermine the Affordable Care Act, especially its provision calling for an expansion of Medicaid. TPM’s Brian Beutler reports that Louisiana’s right-wing governor, Bobby Jindal, says “we’re going to do everything we can” to trash the Obama administration’s health care law.

Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling that limited Congress’s spending power, states now have the opportunity to opt out of the Medicaid expansion part of the law.

The disheartening fact of the matter is that the Affordable Care Act is one of the few progressive attempts at providing for the common good that has been enacted since some of LBJ’s domestic initiatives.

President Bill Clinton enacted a massive bill in 1996 that took a giant step toward shredding an already weakened social safety net. President George W. Bush pushed tax cuts for the super wealthy further exacerbating economic inequality.

Yet even some liberals, such as Jacobin’s Connor Kilpatrick, fault the Affordable Care Act for being underwhelming, and indeed a win for corporate America. “Corporate America,” he writes “is more than happy with Obamacare. We’re now required to by the state to buy the shittiest, most overpriced consumer product in American history.”

Kilpatrick like his counterparts on the Right, Tea Party loons for instance, are often given to hyperbole, which can spark helpful debate or mere rolling of the eyes.

The Affordable Care Act, faults aside, is one of the lone steps in the right direction. Bolder steps are needed for the common good. But such steps will continue to be an uphill battle, especially with a powerful Supreme Court apparently gripped by corporate interests.