Posted by | July 2, 2012 18:52 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

So it only took a couple of days.  After a Supreme Court ruling that ensured that the safety net would be extended more than at any time since Medicare, progressives started looking for the clouds in the silver lining.  Pamela Karlan captured one strain of this, bemoaning the restriction on Medicaid spending.

For the first time since the New Deal, the court struck down an exercise of Congress’s spending power. It held that Congress lacked the power to deny Medicaid funds to states that refuse to expand their coverage. Chief Justice Roberts — joined by the liberal justices Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan — held that while the government can deny additional Medicaid funds to states that refuse to expand their coverage, it cannot penalize them by rescinding current Medicaid payments.

I see this as a very narrow circumstance of denying Congressional power (Congress can’t abridge an existing commitment that states and their neediest have come to rely on) and reasonable policy.  The other strain of pessimism comes from the part of the decision declining to use the Commerce Clause to validate the Affordable Care Act.  But I’m with Kevin Drum here.

So to the extent that this sets any precedent, it’s only that Congress can’t force people to engage in commerce. That’s not something Congress has done before or is likely to need to do in the future. The taxing power is sufficient for most purposes, and existing precedent on the Commerce Clause, which allows Congress nearly unlimited power to regulate existing commerce, is sufficient for the rest.

Hey folks, we won this one.  Let’s enjoy it.

By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.