Progressives And Half Empty Glasses
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.
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