The Tired, Offensive States’ Rights Argument Against Health Care Reform

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.

Ifill continues:

From the Civil War to the civil rights movement 100 years later, the call for ‘state rights’ long stood for the desire of Southern states to mistreat black residents. That’s why the invocation of this term – as it was by Ronald Reagan, when he launched his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi – has become a kind of code that carries offensive racial implications.

So the states’ rights advocates, no matter how hard they try to drape their defense of state rights in inoffensive and constitutionally sounding rhetoric, their line is wearing thin. Indeed it has been for years. And they need to be called on it, as Professor Ifill has done.

These governors are not concerned about constitutional principles, at least not the principles of the 1787 Constitution; they are only concerned about appeasing an ignoble constituency, one that is baited by politics of hate and fear, but is one that ultimately supports a status quo.

That status quo is really only good for a tiny group of people in this nation – the superrich. That group has no problem attaining and keeping health insurance. The group is out-of-touch with the vast majority of the nation, and driven to ensuring the status quo. 

[image via Gage Skidmore]