December 4, 2020 / by 


John Roberts Fails to Dictate Another Presidential Outcome, John Yoo Cries

In this post, I suggested the reason Republicans are so angry that John Roberts apparently flipped his vote (note, Barton Gellman reminded today that Ramesh Ponnuru said at Princeton reunion this year that Roberts had flipped before June 1) because they expected the conservative Justices to influence this year’s election.

Funny. In his rant declaring John Roberts the next David Souter, John Yoo has this to say:

Given the advancing age of several of the justices, an Obama second term may see the appointment of up to three new Supreme Court members. A new, solidified liberal majority will easily discard Sebelius’s limits on the Commerce Clause and expand the taxing power even further. After the Hughes court switch, FDR replaced retiring Justices with a pro-New Deal majority, and the court upheld any and all expansions of federal power over the economy and society. The court did not overturn a piece of legislation under the Commerce Clause for 60 years.

Mind you, he doesn’t rule out a Republican (he doesn’t name Mitt directly) getting elected. But he does see this in terms of the election, it seems.

But that’s not the most interesting passage in Yoo’s rant. This was:

Justice Roberts too may have sacrificed the Constitution’s last remaining limits on federal power for very little—a little peace and quiet from attacks during a presidential election year.

The … last … remaining … limits … on … Federal … power.

Yep. John Yoo said that.

Chief Justice Roberts, Flipped Votes, and the Naked Partisans

Yesterday Barack Obama discovered the one high-rankng Republican in the country who would help him raise taxes: John Roberts.

While the political (how will yesterday’s ruling affect both the Presidential and lower ticket races in November) and pragmatic (what red states will turn down tons of Federal money to provide health care for their poor) consequences of yesterday’s decision are still playing out, I’m quite interested in the Kremlinology over Roberts’ vote.

Because the unsigned dissent on the mandate refers to Justice Ginsburg’s opinion as itself the dissent–and for a slew more reasons–a number of people think that Roberts originally joined the conservatives, but then flipped at a late moment. (See here and here for a discussion of the evidence supporting that argument, see here for an alternative explanation.)

Then there are questions about why Roberts voted, for the first time, with just the liberal block, his first swing vote on one of the highest profile cases of his tenure. Was it to save the respectability of the Court? To gut the commerce clause? To serve his one consistent constituency, corporations?

The answer to those questions, too, are still playing out.

I can’t help but see this in another context. This decision was the last opportunity for SCOTUS to help defeat Barack Obama. They helped mightily with Citizens United and again with their rejection of the Montana campaign finance case. The Court came close to helping on voting rights and redistricting. The Republicans in the Roberts court has done a lot to make sure Obama doesn’t get to pick anymore of their future colleagues.

But yesterday’s decision had a big impact on the the course of this year’s election. Had the Administration lost, I do think they hypothetically could have used the loss as a rallying point, though in practice they have never shown the ability to win this political argument or even try in concerted fashion, so the more likely outcome would have been a setback at the polls. I do think given Mitt’s embrace of the dissent–rejecting insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, among other things–Democrats ought to be able to spin his opposition to great advantage. Yet I also agree with those who argue that neither Obama nor Mitt have an incentive to talk much about healthcare moving forward. Congressional races are another thing altogether, as the GOP will try to run on a promise to overturn ObamaCare.

Alll that said, I’m most struck by the naked partisan face that has emerged in recent days. While the dissent was largely an angry legalistic screed, the decision–to overturn all of ObamaCare–was radical in its intent. Ginsburg’s opinion’s frequent reliance on the Massachusetts example, RomneyCare, was a nice partisan touch. Most all there’s the haunting dissent to the SB 1070 ruling that Scalia read on Monday, using slavery-era law to argue that states could exclude undesirables from their state (to say nothing of Alito’s defense of life in prison for teenagers).

Roberts may be a corporatist, but the other four conservatives are showing far uglier faces of late.

Then there’s this detail. Amanda Terkel noted Jim DeMint saying conservatives had been “teased” into believing SCOTUS would overturn ObamaCare for them, doing as activist judges what even Erick Erickson now accepts must be done by politics.

“Teased”? What does that mean? Was DeMint “teased” with the results before Roberts flipped, if he did? Did DeMint have reason to believe the five conservatives had taken the radical step of overturning all of ObamaCare?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I will say that the dissenters yesterday have clerks and other staffers who, with a half hour’s work, could have hid the most obvious relics of John Roberts’ flip, if that’s what he did. Search and replace: “dissent,” “concurrence.” That is, if indeed Roberts flipped his vote, then it seems likely that the angry Republicans deliberately left evidence that would lead us all to speculate if not conclude he had done so.

SCOTUS doesn’t leak, Jack Goldsmith says, because it doesn’t bring the same political leverage that leaking does for Executive branch employees.

The justices benefit from the reality and mystique of secrecy, and gain nothing from a leak. A justice can frame a case to the public in a written opinion and wins no internal leverage (and likely loses some) from disclosing the disposition of a case prematurely.


Emboldened lower level officials become disrespectful of the secrecy system and sometimes disclose classified information to spin an operation in their favor, to settle a bureaucratic score, or to appear important.

Whether or not Jim DeMint learned how the Court voted some time ago, if it’s true Roberts flipped his vote, then it seems likely the other conservatives–the ones serving an even uglier partisan ideology than Roberts’ raw corporatism–believe they benefit from making that known now, after the fact.

They delivered their side of the bargain, the clues in the dissent show. And they seem to want that known.

The SCOTUS Healthcare Decision Cometh

[UPDATE:Okay, from the SCOTUSBlog “The entire ACA is upheld, with exception that federal government’s power to terminate states’ Medicaid funds is narrowly read.” Key language from the decision on the mandate:

The money quote from the section on the mandate: Our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in Section 5000A under the taxing power, and that Section 5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax. This is sufficient to sustain it.

And, boy howdy, was I wrong. I steadfastly maintained that CJ Roberts would never be the swing vote on a 5-4 majority, but would only join a liberal majority on the heels of Tony Kennedy. WRONG! The mandate survives solely as a result of Roberts and without Kennedy. Wow.

Final update thought. While I think the mandate should have been constructed as a tax, it clearly was not in the bill passed. You want to talk about “legislating from the bench”? Well hard to see how this is not a remarkable example of just that. I am sure all the plebes will hypocritically cheer that, and fail to note what is going on. Also, if the thing is a “tax” how is it not precluded as unripe under the AIJA? don’t have a fine enough reading of the opinion – read no reading yet – to discern that apparent inconsistency.

As to the Medicaid portion, here is the key opinion language on that:

Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.

Oh well, people on the left have been crying for this crappy law, now you got it. Enjoy. I will link the actual opinion as soon as it is available.


Well, the long awaited moment is here: Decision Day On The ACA. If you want to follow the live roll out of the Supreme Courts decisions, here is a link to the incredibly good SCOTUSBlog live coverage. Coverage starts at 9 am EST and the actual Court proceedings starting at 10 am EST.

This post will serve two functions. The first is to lay just a very brief marker, for better or worse (undoubtedly the latter I am afraid), going into decision day, hour and moment, and a ready location to post the decision of the court and link the actual opinions. The minute they are known and links available, they will be put here in an update at the top of the post. That way you can start the discussion ahead of the decisions, lay a record of your predictions ahead of time AND have a place to immediately discuss the rulings as they come in and immediately afterward.

Many friends and other pundits involved in the healthcare SCOTUS discussion have been working for weeks on alternative drafts of posts and articles to cover every contingency so they can immediately hit the net with their takes. That is great, and some of them will be a service. But I have just been too busy lately to expend that kind of energy on something so canned. Sorry about that. So my actual analysis and thoughts will mostly have to come later, but they will be on the merits, such as they may be, when the actual decisions are in. Also, I will be in comments and on Twitter (under “bmaz” of course).

Okay, with the logistics out of the way, I have just a few comments to lodge on the front end of this gig. First off, the ACA/PPA started off as truly about health insurance, not about health care from the start, and that is, still, never more true than today. Marcy laid out why this is, and why a LOT of people may get, or be forced into, purchasing health insurance, but there is a real question as to whether they will be able to afford to actually use what they will be commanded to buy. See here, here and here as a primer. Those points are pretty much as valid today as they were back when she wrote them.

Secondly, I have no real actual idea how the ruling will come down as to the merits. But, just for sport and grins, I guess I should take a stab at what I think after all the briefing and oral arguments, so here goes. The Anti-Injunction Act argument that the issue is a tax matter and therefore cannot be ripe for consideration until implemented and applied, will be rejected. The individual mandate is struck by a very narrow majority in a very carefully worded opinion written by John Roberts. The remainder of the ACA is deemed severable and is left to stand, and the Medicaid provisions are left intact, again by a narrow majority. Here is the thing, I would not bet one red cent of my own money on the foregoing; but if I could play with your money, I guess that is how I would roll. Maybe. Note that, before oral argument, my prediction was that the mandate would be upheld; I may regret not sticking with that call.

The real $64,000 question is the mandate, and that could just as easily be upheld, in which case it will likely be by a 6-3 margin (I still think Roberts writes the opinion, and if that is to uphold that means it will be 6-3). Here is what I will unequivocally say: however this goes down as to the mandate, it is a very legitimate issue; the arguments by the challengers, led by Randy Barnett, are now, and always were, far more cognizant than most everyone on the left believed or let on. I said that before oral argument, I said that after oral arguments and I say that now. Irrespective of what the actual decision turns out to be. Oh, and I always thought the hook liberals desperately cling to, Wickard v. Filburn, was a lousy decision to start with.

I have been literally stunned by the ridiculous hyperbole that has been blithely bandied about on the left on the ACA cases and potential striking of the mandate. Kevin Drum says it would be “ridiculous”, James Fallows says it would be a “coup!”, Liz Wydra says the entire legitimacy of SCOTUS is at issue, So do the Jonathans, Chait and Cohn. A normally very sane and brilliant guy, Professor David Dow, went off the deep end and says the justices should be impeached if they invalidate the mandate. The Huffington Post, and their supposed healthcare expert, Jeffrey Young, ran this insanely idiotic and insulting graphic. It is all some of the most stupefyingly hyperbolic and apoplectic rubbish I have ever seen in my life.

Curiously, the ones who are screaming about, and decrying,”politicization of the Court”, my colleagues on the left, are the ones who are actually doing it with these antics. Just stop. Please. The mandate, and really much of the ACA was ill conceived and crafted from the get go. Even if the mandate is struck, the rest of the law can live on quite nicely. Whatever the decision of the court, it will be a legitimate decision on an extremely important and very novel extension of Commerce Clause power that had never been encountered before.

One last prediction: Irrespective of the outcome today, the hyperbole will continue. So, there is the warm up. Let’s Get Ready To Rumble!

Nate’s “Common Sense” on ObamaCare

Nate Silver has a post purporting to show that it is “common sense” that SCOTUS overturning ObamaCare (Nate calls it the “health care bill,” which it is assuredly not) would not be good for Obama.

He argues his point by pointing to the very same data I did when arguing there are things Obama could do to make a SCOTUS loss work to his advantage. Nate notes that Obama doesn’t need ObamaCare one way or another to enthuse his base. Nate acknowledges that swing voters–the people who will decide the November election–don’t like ObamaCare. And then he notes that these same swing voters in general have a good opinion of SCOTUS. Nate summarizes the “common sense” he derives from this data this way:

However, the argument that the bill being struck down would actually help Mr. Obama seems to have little grounding in the evidence — nor, frankly, in common sense. Among the voters that are most critical to Mr. Obama’s re-election prospects, the Supreme Court is more popular than the health care bill. If the justices declare one of the president’s signature accomplishments to be unconstitutional, it would not be a boon to him.

The people who will decide the election don’t like ObamaCare and so–Nate’s common sense says–if law they don’t like goes away (in part or whole?), they will be less likely to vote for the guy who brought them that law they don’t like that has gone away. “Common sense”!

Let’s unpack the things Nate doesn’t talk about, in addition to his calling a health insurance law a health care bill.

First, he does what ObamaCare boosters tend to do in these discussions, not distinguish between a scenario where just the mandate is thrown out, and one in which the entire law is thrown out (due, largely, to the Administration’s own arguments about severability). Each scenario, it seems, would have different results. If SCOTUS threw out that part of the law people disliked most, it might make everyone–except the insurance companies and those arguing that a mandate is the only way to make this work–happy, particularly if the Administration promised to find a solution that would make the whole thing work (they won’t). Whereas if SCOTUS threw out the whole thing, it would lead people to become aware of the parts of the law people really do like, such as coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and kids under 26, and therefore develop a new appreciation for the law SCOTUS shot down. I think there are potential upsides and downsides for Obama in both those scenarios, but they are two different scenarios, and any “common sense’ ought to acknowledge that.

And then there’s the other assumption: that if SCOTUS threw out ObamaCare Obama would be utterly passive; that reactions to the SCOTUS decision would be entirely unaffected by Obama’s response because (presumably) there wouldn’t be one.

We already know that Obama will respond because he’s doing so already–by attacking the SCOTUS that, as Nate points out, is better liked by the people who will decide November’s election than ObamaCare is (in response, the 5th Circuit has gotten an order of magnitude more petty, threatening to let the whole thing devolve into an intra-branch squabble no one will like). I have already suggested that’s probably the least productive response; if that’s going to be Obama’s response, I agree, losing at SCOTUS will hurt him.

In any case, we know that if ObamaCare is shot down, Obama will respond. The question is whether he will respond in a way that helps his electoral chances or hurts them.

How voters will respond to a SCOTUS defeat is partly contingent on Obama’s actions. He can respond in a way that appeals to those swing voters–perhaps by offering alternatives that address the thing people like least about the law, the mandate–or he can respond in a way that exacerbates precisely the poll numbers Nate points to by doing what he is doing.

I’m not saying a SCOTUS defeat (of the mandate or the entire law) will help or hurt Obama. But I am saying that he can influence that response and–possibly–use a defeat to turn this thorn in his popularity around. I’m increasingly pessimistic he will do so, mind you, but he is not a passive actor in affecting the response.

ObamaCare SCOTUS Reaction: Why Not Find a Way to Make the Benefits Worth the Price?

I was going to let bmaz handle the ObamaCare debate. But then I read this Jonathan Cohn piece–which asks whether SCOTUS’ likely decision to strike down the mandate will delegitimize the court. And I had to respond.

Cohn started his discussion on legitimacy last week with this post. In addition to, as bmaz argues, downplaying the importance of the limiting principle, Cohn describes how a named plaintiff in the case, Steven Hyder, explained his involvement in the case. Cohn focuses rather more on Hyder’s incoherent TeaParty rhetoric…

“It’s a complete intrusion into my business and into my private life,” he told me. “I think it’s one big step towards a socialist society and I’m purely capitalist. I believe in supply-side economics and freedom.”

Than on his more basic description of why he hasn’t bought health insurance…

He said his motive was straightforward. He’s opted not to carry health insurance because he doesn’t think the benefits justify the price, and he doesn’t want the government forcing him to do otherwise.

I’m rather more interested in this “straightforward motive” bit: Hyder says the benefits don’t justify the price.

I have no idea what Hyder’s income is, but remember that for around 16 to 19% of people affected by the mandate, buying health insurance would only limit, but not eliminate, the possibility of medical bankruptcy, without making health care for serious but not life-threatening problems financially accessible. That chunk of people would not be able to afford to use the insurance for anything more than the guaranteed preventative care and catastrophic care. And yet they would be asked to pay up to 8% of their income for this badly inadequate insurance.

Hyder may spout TeaParty rhetoric that makes it easy to dismiss him, but he also points to one of the realities of health insurance in this country: it is very expensive and for many people, its benefits may not immediately justify the cost.

With all that as background, let’s turn to Cohn’s catalog of opinions on whether SCOTUS’ decision will delegitimize the institution (note: Cohn doesn’t say whether he thinks SCOTUS will throw out just the mandate or the whole kit and kaboodle, which seems rather important, but the Administration’s own choices and arguments about severability may be responsible if the latter occurs).

To summarize the arguments Cohn lays out (these are my summaries–apologies for any distortions of the views portrayed):

Cohn: Overruling an act of Congress should erode the Court’s authority.

David Bernstein: The ruling won’t undermine the Court’s legitimacy because those who might object to it–liberal journalists, lawyers, and activists–have too much invested in the Court to make the case.

Scott Lemieux: The ruling won’t undermine the Court’s legitimacy because a significant chunk of elite opinion and a majority of the public would find the decision legitimate. And also, the ruling won’t lead to anything better because the insurance companies, which are the key agent, won’t let anything better arise.

Andrew Koppelman: The ruling will undermine the Court’s legitimacy because it will “force” Obama to spend “millions of dollars worth of television ads trying to persuade the American public that the Republicans on the Court are a bunch of despicable political hacks” and negative advertising works.

Of note, look at the differing emphasis on who has agency to affect the Court’s legitimacy: the liberal commentariat, insurance companies, and Obama.

Cohn ultimately ends his piece with the question of agency, noting,

Public perceptions of this case, and the Supreme Court, are not some static reality. How people react to the final ruling will depend a great deal on what they hear and read, directly and indirectly. And that’s true no matter what the Court decides.

Right: public opinion will be affected in part–as Lemieux acknowledges–by the widespread dislike for the mandate as well as support for other provisions of the law (which, because the Administration is only now getting around to telling people the good parts of the law, many people may only discover were part of ObamaCare if they’re taken away) that they really like.

But it will also be affected by what gets written now. It will partly be affected by what people like Cohn write now.

And not only do I agree with bmaz that responding to a legal setback by attacking the legitimacy of the Court is unwise (I’d add that because the polling on the mandate is so bad, it also risks making people side with SCOTUS over Democrats as a whole on this), I also think there are far better options.

About the only reason to attack the Court, now, as ObamaCare supporters are doing, is if they believe it’s going to persuade John Roberts or Anthony Kennedy to change their vote; given the defensive response to Obama calling out the Justices for their Citizens United decision, I think that’s a pipe dream.

A better response than Koppelman’s plan, then, would not be to attack the Justices (since the public generally dislikes the mandate), but to use their decision–and more politically unpopular decisions–as a call for really pushing court appointments. Such a response would be even better if it were matched both with the commitment to invest the money and effort to make the American Constitutional Society as effective as the Federalist Society has been at packing SCOTUS. Not to mention a commitment from Obama to take a more aggressive approach on judicial appointments, which would mean fighting for people like Goodwin Liu.

I’m skeptical that’d be all that effective a response: not only have Democrats always run by warning about SCOTUS appointees–with marginal effect–but Obama’s own history doesn’t show the level of commitment to making judicial appointments a politically legitimate issue that you would need to make such an approach credible.

But there is another alternative, one that might have a better impact on the election and help Obama shed the political unpopularity of the mandate. Simply say, now,

Well, we tried to provide health care by relying on the existing insurance networks, but SCOTUS seems like it’s going to say such an approach is unconstitutional. So we’ll have to roll out a way of doing so–after all, the Court recognized the importance of health care–in a way that would be Constitutional. I’m planning on fighting for Medicare buy-in.

Now, Lemieux may be right in suggesting the insurance industry dominates Congress to an extent that Medicare buy-in would never pass (the only thing that scotched the idea in 2009 was Joe Lieberman, who will be retiring, though we’ve lost the majority we once had, in part because of the unpopularity of the mandate). But Medicare buy-in solves all the problems except insuring insurance profits: it would make health care more accessible (and more accessible than it would be under ObamaCare), it would actually help Medicare’s funding problem (because more healthier people would enter the pool with our retirees, and they’d be paying a premium for coverage), and it would help Obama pivot away from the unpopular mandate to something widely popular. If Obama made such an announcement now, rather than waiting for an adverse ruling, it might be more persuasive to the corporatist hacks on the Court to uphold the mandate, who wouldn’t want insurance companies to lose these captive consumers.

And it would provide a health insurance option that might even be attractive to Steven Hyder.

Cohn is right: what people write and say now will have an impact on the public response. And progressives can either double down on a plan that didn’t solve Hyder’s problem: that health insurance remains a really shitty deal in this country. Or they can at least threaten to offer a better alternative.

Requiem For ACA at SCOTUS & Legitimacy Of Court and Case

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise popularly known as “Obamacare” had a bit of a rough go of it this week at the Supreme Court. Jeff Toobin called it a train wreck (later upgraded to plane wreck). Kevin Drum termed it a “debacle” and Adam Serwer a “Disaster“.

Was it really that bad? Considering how supremely confident, bordering on arrogant, the Obama Administration, and many of the ACA’s plethora of healthcare “specialists”, had been going into this week’s arguments, yes, it really was that bad. Monday’s argument on the applicability of the tax Anti-Injunction Act (AIJA) went smoothly, and as expected, with the justices appearing to scorn the argument and exhibit a preference to decide the main part of the case on the merits. But then came Tuesday and Wednesday.

Does that mean the ACA is sunk? Not necessarily; Dahlia Lithwick at Slate and Adam Bonin at Daily Kos sifted through the debris and found at least a couple of nuggets to latch onto for hope. But, I will be honest, after reading transcripts and listening to most all of the audio, there is no question but that the individual mandate, and quite possible the entire law, is in a seriously precarious lurch.

Unlike most of my colleagues, I am not particularly surprised. Indeed, in my argument preview piece, I tried to convey how the challenger’s arguments were far more cognizable than they were being given credit for. The simple fact is the Commerce Clause power claimed by Congress in enacting the individual mandate truly is immense in scope, – every man, woman and child in the United States – and nature – compelled purchase of a product from private corporate interests. Despite all the clucking and tut tutting, there really never has been anything like it before. The Supreme Court Justices thought so too.

I have no idea what kind of blindered hubris led those on the left to believe the Roberts Court was going to be so welcoming to their arguments, and to be as dismissive of the challengers’ arguments, as was the case. Yes, cases such as Raich and Wickard established Congress could regulate interstate commerce and Morrison and Lopez established there were limits to said power. But, no, none of them directly, much less conclusively, established this kind of breathtaking power grant as kosher against every individual in the country.

Despite the grumbling of so many commentators that the law was clear cut, and definitively established in favor of the mandate, it wasn’t, and isn’t. And I was not the only one on the left who found the challenging arguments serious, Professor Jonathan Turley did as well (see here and here).

There is no particular need to rehash all the different arguments, and iterations of them by the scores of commentators (not to mention the participants in the case, of course), that has already been done elsewhere, actually everywhere, ad nauseum. There is one area I do want to touch on, at least briefly, though. Limitations of power. This is an important concept in Commerce Clause law, which is why I tried to focus on it in the argument preview article.

Simply put, the the question is, if the federal government can, via the Article I Congressional authority, stretch the reach of the Commerce Clause to every individual in the US, willing or not, as they did in the “ACA Individual Mandate” is there any power over the individual and/or the states, that is still out of bounds? Are there any limitations left on the ability of the federal to consume individual determination? What the Supreme Court looks for in such an inquiry are “limiting principles” that could constrain the power in the future. Another term of art used in the law is, is there any way to “cabin”, i.e. constrain, the power?

In addition to the preview post, I also asked colleagues on Twitter (here and here) to describe proper concepts that would accomplish the goal. For over a day, until the reality that – gasp – this was also the concern of the justices, there was literally no discernible response. Once that reality, forced by the Court, set in however, attempts came fast and furious. Nearly all were rationalizations for why the ACA/mandate was necessary and/or desirable, but were not actual limiting principles.

It was a bit of a trick question, because the best lawyers in the government and amici did not do so hot in that regard either. Out of all I have seen, the one that struck me as fairly easily the best was propounded by Professor Jack Balkin:

The Moral Hazard/Adverse Selection Principle
Congress can regulate activities that substantially affect commerce. Under the necesary and proper clause, Congress can require people to engage in commerce when necessary to prevent problems of moral hazard or adverse selection created by its regulation of commerce. But if there is no problem of moral hazard or adverse selection, Congress cannot compel commerce. Courts can choose different standards of review to decide how much they want to defer to Congress’s conclusion.

Nice, tight and definable. Not bad. Still leaves a lot of ground – likely far too much – open to suit the apparent Supreme Court majority forming. So, when you read, here or otherwise, discussion about “limiting principles” or “cabining”, this is what is being contemplated.

As usual, Justice Anthony Kennedy is the critical swing. And Kennedy’s general understanding (and consideration here) of liberty is instructive. The following lays it out quite well, using both quotes from last Tuesday’s oral argument and background, and comes via Adam Liptak at the New York Times:

Paul D. Clement, representing 26 states challenging the law, had a comeback. “I would respectfully suggest,” he said, “that it’s a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not.”
Justices tend to ask more questions of the lawyers whose positions they oppose, and Justice Kennedy posed six questions to Mr. Verrilli and just three to the two lawyers challenging the law.

The questions to Mr. Verrilli were, moreover, mostly easy to read. They were crisp expressions of discomfort with the administration’s arguments.

“Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?” Justice Kennedy asked.

“This is a step beyond what our cases have allowed, the affirmative duty to act to go into commerce” he said. “If that is so, do you not have a heavy burden of justification?”

“Can you identify for us some limits on the commerce clause?” he asked.

Those questions fit neatly within one strain of Justice Kennedy’s understanding of liberty, one he discussed at length last year in an opinion for a unanimous court.

Limiting federal power, he wrote, “protects the liberty of all persons within a state by ensuring that laws enacted in excess of delegated governmental power cannot direct or control their actions. By denying any one government complete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life, federalism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power. When government acts in excess of its lawful powers, that liberty is at stake.”

There is a Constitutional desire, and instruction to, colloquially, have limitation on federal power and to reserve rights to states and liberties to individuals. The Supreme Court, and Justice Kennedy (and to a lesser extent Chief Justice Roberts), in the ACA arguments was grappling with these concepts. How they find them, and decide them, will determine the outcome on the mandate.

One way or another, the case on the mandate will be decided. In the preview post before oral arguments began, I predicted either a 6-3 decision to uphold the constitutionality of the mandate or a 5-4 decision against it. The odds on the latter have soared. At this point, I would rate the odds at 50:50 either way. But, sometime – likely near the end of June – there will be a decision and the victory dance by the winning side and caterwauling and demeaning of the “politicized Court” by the losers will commence. That pattern will play out regardless of which party wins, and which party loses.

As described in both the instant post, and the preview piece, the arguments are indeed contentious, but they are also quite real. There are fundamental differences, over fundamental interpretations of fundamental rights. And, despite the often PT Barnum like contentions of the ACA cheer squad on the left, and from the Obama Administration, the nature and reach of the mandate truly is unprecedented and never was “unquestionably constitutional” as so many claimed. The left created their own self sustaining echo chamber and convinced themselves a truly controversial mandate was self fulfilling and golden.

The arguments against the mandate by the challengers are not wrong or silly simply because made by the “other side”. There IS merit to their concern, even if you ultimately believe the mandate should be upheld. Which has made it distressing, to be kind, to see the efforts of many of my colleagues on the left to demonize and degrade the questions and apparent inclination by the conservative bloc of the Roberts Court during oral arguments.

It took Jonathan Chait at New York less than a day after the fateful oral arguments to start salting the thought the court was somehow illegitimate:

The spectacle before the Supreme Court this week is Republican justices seizing the chance to overturn the decisions of democratically-elected bodies. At times the deliberations of the Republican justices are impossible to distinguish from the deliberations of Republican senators.

Chait’s fellow dedicated ACA supporter, Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic quickly weighed in with his hyperbolic joinder:

Before this week, the well-being of tens of millions of Americans was at stake in the lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act.

Now something else is at stake, too: The legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

Even Dahlia Lithwick and Professor Richard Hasen, both of whom I respect somewhere beyond immensely, in separate articles at Slate, joined the chorus of casting stones of Court legitimacy degradation.

Please, folks, just stop. The question on the mandate is legitimate, and the other side believes their position every bit as much as you do yours. While there is certainly case precedent in the general area, there is just as certainly none directly on point with the way the “commerce” in this mandate is framed and “regulated”.

The Supreme Court is inherently a political body, at least in that its Justices are politically appointed. Presidential candidates of both stripes campaign on the type of Justices they would appoint if given the opportunity. Further, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the most controversial questions, that habitually involve mixed issues of politics and law, and has been ever since Marbury v. Madison.

Charges against the legitimacy of the Supremes have also been extant since the time of Marbury v. Madison, and continue into the modern set of decades with cries by the right against the Warren Court, to the bookend cries by the left against the Burger and Rehnquist Courts. The Supreme Court survived all those, and is still ticking after Bush v. Gore and Citizen’s United. It will survive this too.

And, as David Bernstein pointed out, why in the world would the left undermine the Court’s legitimacy when it is one Presidential appointment away from taking over the ideological majority? No kidding. I respectfully urge my colleagues on the left to step back, take a breath of air, and rethink the idea of degrading the Court over this case.

Those, however, are not the only reasons Democrats and the left should take a step back and rethink how they are reacting to the SCOTUS consideration of the ACA mandate. I pointed out in the ACA/SCOTUS preview post that progressives and conservatives were both, strangely, arguing contrary to type and ideology on the mandate. In a really bright piece of counterintuitive and intelligent thought, Jon Walker points out just how true that was:

If Conservatives get their way and the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate to buy health insurance, it would be a real victory for them; but in the end, the last laugh may be with actual progressives. While in this case an individual mandate was used to expand health coverage, similar individual mandates are the cornerstone for corporatist plans to unravel the public social insurance systems created by the New Deal/Great Society.

The basic subsidies, exchanges and individual mandate design that defines the ACA are at the heart of many corporatists’ attempts to destroy/privatizes the programs progressives support the most.

There are are two main ways for the government to provide universal public goods. The first and normally best way is to have the government raise money through taxes and then use that money to directly provide the service to everyone. The other option is to create an individual mandate forcing everyone to buy the service from private corporations while having the government subsidize some of the cost. These needless middlemen mostly just increases costs for regular people and the government. This is why corporations love this setup and push hard for it.
If the Supreme Court rules against this individual mandate in a way that basically makes it legally impossible to replace most of our current public insurance systems with mandated private systems, that should be seen as a big silver lining for progressives.

Go read the entire piece by Jon Walker, as it contains specific instances and discussions that are important.

In closing, I would just like to say it is NOT the case that the conservatives are definitely right in their challenge to the individual mandate in Obamacare, but it is a lot closer case than liberals make out, and liberals are being blind to the potential downside of it being upheld. All of these factors make the situation different than has been relentlessly painted; there are legitimate arguments on both sides and the Supreme Court will make a tough decision. Whatever it is, that will be their decision. It was a flawed law when it got to the Supremes, and they will still maintain legitimacy and respect when it leaves, regardless of how they sort the hash they were served.

[Article updated to reflect author Jon Walker for the last link, not David Dayen]

America, the Dystopian Reality Show: Pink Slime Edition

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When The Decline and Fall of the American Empire is written, I hope the historian writing it is astute enough to notice that the same week our nation’s highest court spent deciding whether the government could legally offer (badly conceived) health insurance reform, the business community was fighting to sustain a market for pink slime.

Pink slime arose as a typically American response to industrialization. After Jack in the Box killed a bunch of its customers by feeding them E. coli, rather than cleaning up the nation’s industrial meat supply, the food industry instead decided to scrub meat parts with ammonia before mixing it back in with The Beef.

But guess what? If you tell consumers what kind of slime you’re actually feeding them, they’ll stop eating it.

Ammoniated beef has taken a real beating in the media over the past couple years, and now fast-food giants McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King are no longer using it. As veteran journalist Philip Brasher reported over the holidays, the Iowa-based company that manufactures the beef product — at one time used in around 70 percent of American ground beef — has watched sales drop by 25 percent.

Beef Products Inc. uses an innovative process to turn fatty beef trimmings, which used to go mainly into pet food and other byproducts, into hamburger filler. Because the trimmings are at risk for E. coli or Salmonella contamination, the company adds a mixture of ammonia and water (ammonium hydroxide) to kill bacteria. BPI’s process, progressive food safety policies, and state-of-the art system have received numerous food safety awards and the company has never been linked to a foodborne illness.

But when some consumers find out about the treated beef product — dubbed “pink slime” by a U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist — they don’t like what they hear and food companies are taking notice.

In 2008, many American eaters were introduced to the product by Food, Inc, the Oscar-nominated documentary, which portrayed the technology as merely masking a symptom of a bigger problem: the industrial meat system. A year later, a New York Times expose questioned whether the ammonium hydroxide process was really delivering on its food safety promise, which is especially critical considering the product is widely used in the National School Lunch Program.

After Krogers and McDonalds both decided they couldn’t continue to sell consumers pink slime anymore, the pink slime company, BPI, shut down a bunch of pink slime factories.

Now a bunch of Governors and other industry-owned hacks have taken to the airwaves to defend pink slime.

Three governors, among them recent presidential candidate Rick Perry of Texas, two lieutenant governors, and the Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture all went to bat for Beef Products Inc. in a press conference in South Sioux City, Nebraska Thursday to assure consumers that Lean Finely Textured Beef, now widely known as “pink slime,” is safe and nutritious.


“We need to stand together to clear up the misinformation that has been circulating in the media,” said Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who helped organize the event. “These accusations are totally unfounded… I am proud to say that for 20 years I and my family have been eating it.”

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback called the national controversy over LFTB “an unmerited and unwarranted food scare” and said it would lead to higher lean ground beef prices and cause more people to buy higher fat ground meat.

“Dude, it’s beef!” said Brownback. “It’s good beef.”

All these high profile people could embrace an effort to clean up our industrial food supply. Alternately, they could inform consumers how much healthier they’d be if they gave up red meat altogether and instead ate chicken or–gasp!–broccoli.

But no. Instead, the very same week some of these same Governors argued that it was unduly coercive for the Federal Government to ask you to provide health care to the very poor even while providing money for that care, they’re also trying to convince us that pink slime is the route to good health.

It’s the little things, you know, that bring down great empires.

Arizona Has A New Democratic Senate Candidate!

Well, okay, Richard Carmona has been formally announced for the race since early November of 2011, but with yesterday’s dropout by the only other major Democratic contender, former state Democratic Party Chair Don Bivens, the field is effectively cleared for Carmona.

Bivens was gracious and indicated clearly he is getting out for party unity:

“The continuing head-to-head competition of our Democratic primary is draining resources that we will need as a Party to win the U.S. Senate race in November,” he wrote in a statement. “While I am confident we would win this primary, the cost and impact on the Party I’ve spent my life fighting for could diminish our chance to achieve the ultimate goal: winning in November.”

Bivens had a stellar third quarter in fundraising, but momentum quickly shifted to former Surgeon General Richard Carmona when he entered the race in November. Carmona had the backing of much of the national Democratic establishment.

In a joint statement with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wrote that he was “heartened that Don has decided to focus his time and energy” on President Barack Obama’s re-election and on Carmona’s campaign.

This is actually fairly exciting news here in the desert, as the party, both in state and nationally, can coalesce around Carmona and focus on the necessary effort to insure very conservative Republican Congressman Jeff Flake, the certain nominee for the GOP, does not win. The race is for the seat of the retiring Jon Kyl and, for the first time since Dennis DeConcini left, the Dems have a serious chance of gaining a Senator in Arizona. A goal not only critical to us in Arizona, but in the national efforts to retain the all important Majority status in the Senate.

Why is Carmona, the man and candidate, so exciting? Well, because he has a legitimate shot at winning, that’s why. And who is Richard Carmona? Here is his campaign biography:

Born to a poor Hispanic family in New York City, Dr. Richard Carmona experienced homelessness, hunger and bleak prospects for a future education and economic opportunity. The child of parents who emigrated to the United States and struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse, Rich learned tough early lessons about economic disparities and social injustice – an experience he has never forgotten, and one that has given him an understanding of how culture, health, education and economic status shape our country.

Like his siblings and many of his friends, Rich dropped out of high school. With few skills and little education, he enlisted in the Army and went to Vietnam. Military service gave him discipline and a drive to succeed that he still carries today. In order to apply for Special Forces and become a combat medic, he earned his high school equivalency degree. Rich left the Army a combat-decorated veteran, with two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, a combat medical badge and numerous other decorations to mark his service.

When he returned home from Vietnam, Rich became the first member of his family to earn a college degree. Through open enrollment reserved for returning veterans, he attended Bronx Community College and earned an Associate of Arts degree. Later he went to the University of California, San Francisco, where he earned a bachelors of science degree. Two years later, Rich completed his medical degree – receiving the prestigious gold-headed cane as the school’s top graduate.

Trained in general and vascular surgery, Dr. Carmona also completed a National Institutes of Health-sponsored fellowship in trauma, burns, and critical care. A Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, Dr. Carmona was recruited jointly by the Tucson Medical Center and the University of Arizona to start and direct Southern Arizona’s first regional trauma care system. He, his wife Diana and their four children, relocated to Tucson.

Dr. Carmona would later become chairman of the State of Arizona Southern Regional Emergency Medical System, a professor of surgery, public health and family and community medicine at the University of Arizona, and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department surgeon.

While continuing his medical career, Rich’s call to service lead him to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in which he has served for more than 25 years as a deputy sheriff, detective, department surgeon and SWAT Team Leader. In 1992, he rappelled from a helicopter to rescue a paramedic stranded on a mountainside when their medevac helicopter crashed during a snow storm, inspiring a made-for-TV movie. In the course of his service, Rich received the National Top Cop Award and was named the National SWAT Officer of the Year.

In 2002, Carmona was nominated by the president and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate to become the 17th Surgeon General of the United States. As Surgeon General, Carmona focused on prevention, health disparities and emergency preparedness to protect the nation against epidemics and bio-terrorism. He also issued a groundbreaking report on the dangers of second-hand smoke.

While very successful as Surgeon General, he unfortunately also experienced the divisive politics that continue to plague Washington today — where the desire to score political points has become more important than solving problems, creating jobs or providing for those in need. That experience guides his current mission to become Arizona’s next senator and change how Washington works.

In 2007, Dr. Carmona testified before Congress that political appointees had put partisan politics ahead of science — especially when it came to the public’s health — in hopes that shining a light on how the administration operated could bring change. He testified: “The job of surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation, not the doctor of a political party.”

Now THAT, folks, is a history and experience set to kill for in a political candidate for major office. Handsome fellow, and extremely charismatic and personable, too.

Now, I will say this much, Carmona is not, and will not be, a true liberal progressive overall, that is simply not his makeup. I do not yet know Richard personally, but have friends that have both known him since he first came to Arizona decades ago, as well as friends that studied medicine under him, and all advise he is a real deal independent thinker who is overall Democratic in base ideology, but pretty moderate.

Now, the good news: Carmona is very good on the critical health issues currently roiling the nation’s politics, including on women’s issues that are so under fire recently:

Throughout my time as U.S. Surgeon General, I remained steadfast in my belief that every woman should have access to comprehensive health care, including retaining access to reproductive health care options and FDA-approved prescription contraceptives.

As a medical doctor, I know that a woman’s access and choice of reproductive health care options is an intensely personal decision left best decided by a woman and her physician. I also believe it is important to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the United States through supporting medically-accurate, comprehensive sex education for our kids, taking steps to prevent teen pregnancy and providing access to pre-natal care for all women.

Carmona is dogged in his desire to protect Social Security and Medicare, as well as providing appropriate care, that has to date been shockingly lacking, for veterans. Carmona is also strong on the need for immigration reform (trust me, this is absolutely critical here on the border).

A fuller statement on Richard’s priorities can be found here. All in all, it is a great policy set.

One of the things not listed in Carmona’s priorities, and that I am most interested in, is his in depth stance on environmental issues. How we steward our national resources and deal with global warming will be of critical importance. This is geometrically more true in a state of open land, rich natural resources and fragile Sonoran riparian habitats like we have in Arizona. I will be seeking clarification in this regard from Mr. Carmona immediately, and will report appropriately. In fact, I am going to make sure he gets this blog post and a formal request for response.

Here is why this race is SOOOOOO important: Once elected to the Senate from Arizona, people tend to stay there forever. Jeff Flake, the certain GOP nominee, is personally a very nice guy; he is, however, a catastrophe from a policy standpoint. If Jeff Flake is allowed to win this seat, he will never leave unless he gets placed on a national ticket that wins the White House. The tide is turning Blue in Arizona, and we simply cannot tolerate another entrenched right wing extremist.

Richard Carmona has the goods to beat Flake and give both Arizona and national Democrats a strong and, compared to the lobbied up norm for national politicians, genuine voice. As Marcy is doing with Trevor Thomas in Michigan, I will be writing about Carmona and our local race here in Arizona from time to time.

I hope you will join me in supporting Richard Carmona for US Senator for Arizona. Here is where you can get involved, here is where you can donate!

ACA at SCOTUS: Some Thoughts On The Mandate

As you likely know by now, we stand on the cusp of historic oral arguments this week in the Supreme Court on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise popularly known as “Obamacare”. The arguments will occur over three days, for a total of six hours, Monday through Wednesday. Yes, they really are that historic, as Lyle Denniston explains in SCOTUSBlog. The schedule is as follows: Monday: 90 minutes on whether the Anti Injunction Act (AIJA) prevents consideration of a challenge to the individual mandate until it takes effect in 2014; Tuesday: Two hours on the Constitutionality of the individual mandate; and Wednesday: 90 minutes on severability of the main law from the mandate and 60 minutes on state sovereignty concerns of Medicaid reform.

There are two areas of particular interest for me and which really are the meat on the bone of the overall consideration. The first is Monday’s technical argument on the AIJA, which I actually think may be much more in play than most commentators believe, because the Supremes may want to punt the politically sticky part of the case down the road until after the 2012 elections, and the AIJA argument is a ready made vehicle to do just that. Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent in Seven Sky v. Holder explains how that would go should the Supreme beings decide to punt. This is by no means likely, but do not be shocked if it occurs; can kicking down the road is certainly not unknown at SCOTUS on politically sensitive cases.

By far, however, the biggest, and most contentious, kahuna of the healthcare debate is the individual mandate, and that is where I want to focus. The two sides, pro (predominantly liberal left) and con (predominantly conservative right), have been selling their respective wares since before the law was passed and signed by the President. As we truly head into the arguments, however, the pro left have crystallized around a matched pair of articles by Dahlia Lithwick and Linda Greenhouse, and the con right around response pieces by James Taranto and Ed Whelan.

Now this hardly seems like a fair fight, as Taranto has no degree, nor legal training, whatsoever; that said he and Whelan actually lay out the contra to Dahlia and Linda pretty well. Each side effectively accuses the other of being vapid and hollow in argument construct. I will leave aside any vapidity discussion because I think both sides genuinely believe in their positions; as to the hollowness, though, I think both sides are pretty much guilty. Which is understandable, there is simply not a lot of law directly on point with such a sweeping political question as presented by the mandate. “Unprecedented” may be overused in this discussion, but it is not necessarily wrong (no, sorry, Raich v. Gonzales is not that close; it just isn’t).

In short, I think both sides are guilty of puffery as to the quality of legal support for their respective arguments, and I believe both are guilty of trying to pass off effective political posturing as solid legal argument. Certainty is just not there for either side. This is a real controversy, and the Supreme Court has proved it by allotting the, well, almost “unprecedented” amount of time it has to oral argument.

All of the above said, I join my friend Dahlia (and, more nebulously, Linda) in predicting the mandate will be considered (i.e. the AIJA argument discarded) on its merits, and the mandate will survive by either a solid 6-3 or 7-2 vote. There is one caveat to that, however. I have long maintained John Roberts will never be the fifth, and swing, vote to uphold the mandate/Obamacare by a narrow split of 5-4. If it comes down to that, Tony Kennedy would have had to have thrown in with the conservatives, and Roberts will never be the swing, nor would Alito or Scalia. But, if Kennedy goes with the liberal bloc, so that 5-4 is already there, Roberts will sign on to make it 6-3 and there might even be one more that signs up to make it 7-2. So, Obamacare either wins by 6-3 or 7-2, or loses by 5-4, and I think the former. You heard it here.

Now, I want to explain why, at least in my eyes, the mandate is no slam dunk and why I think even my friends on the liberal side are perhaps a little rah rahed and puffered on how awesomely clear cut the mandate is. In that regard, a couple of examples of just how important the mandate consideration is, because of how largely writ it can be extrapolated out, should be considered.

The first analogy comes courtesy of David Bernstein at Volokh:

But let’s say the Federal government decided to pass legislation, modeled on longstanding state laws, requiring all residents of the United States to attend school until age 18 or face [some penalty–a fine, or being drafted into “national service” or whatever]. A resident of a state where schooling is only mandatory until age 16 sues, claiming that this is beyond Congress’s enumerated powers.

The government claims that it has the authority under its Commerce power to require school attendance. After all, not only is education is a huge percentage of the American economy, the federal government already regulates the education market to a substantial degree and spends tens of billions of dollars annually for education, money that will to some extent be wasted if children don’t continue their education at least through high school. Thus, it’s both necessary and proper that the government impose an education mandate to ensure that it’s education policies will be successful.

To the argument that a sixteen year old dropout isn’t engaged in economic activity, the government argues that staying out of school is itself an economic activity, because, among other things, it reduces the amount of federal and state aid to one’s school, makes one less marketable in the employment market, reallocates resources that would otherwise be spend on the dropout’s education, and makes it more likely that one will need to spend money on education in the future. Moreover, no one is really “out” of the education market, because everyone is learning things all the time, whether from t.v., one’s friends, Facebook, or formal schooling. Finally, by dropping out of school, a sixteen year old is raising the expected costs to the government and society of future crime, welfare payments, and the like.

Anyone think the government should win?

Actually David, yeah I wouldn’t have a real problem with that. As a sage friend related to me this morning, there is a direct correlation between a nation’s ability to compete in a world market and the level of education provided to it’s citizens. Citizens with less, or poorer, education harm the entire nation – it’s welfare, it’s defense, its very liberties and it’s ability to defend itself against threats and enemies, foreign and domestic. I think that is exactly right; if you accept the individual mandate is constitutionally agreeable, it would be hard to see how you could disagree with an “education mandate”.

I would hazard a guess, contrary to David Bernstein’s point, most liberals, and maybe even many from the right, might have no problem with mandatory education as a corollary act to the healthcare mandate under the Commerce/Necessary & Proper Clauses (though they may, of course, want vouchers and church school subsidization).

Problem is, the analogies can get harder. Much harder. Let’s try this one of my own construct:

Guns and armament are necessary for the national defense, as is a strong and robust domestic weapons industry. It is important to not only encourage adequate arming of the citizenry for protection from terrorists and foreign agents, but to also encourage the manufacturing capability here in the homeland.

Ergo, every citizen, regardless of their age, shall from here forward be mandated to buy a gun (parents will be in charge of, and responsible for, the guns on behalf of the minors until they reach the age of majority). You will, of course, be able to opt out and pay a $750.00 per person, per year, tax penalty for not complying with the mandatory gun purchase and ownership.

You okay with this one too? If so, is there any mandatory purchase legislation you would not be okay with? What would be the threshold discrimination for a compelled commerce purchase law that would not be appropriate to you be then?

The question of whether one believes there is any limit whatsoever on the commerce power of Congress, and whether that is a good or bad thing, exists irrespective of SCOTUS, at least until they rule on this ACA extravaganza. This stuff matters. A lot. I personally find the analogies extremely useful to explore just how committed people are to the political blarney that has been casually cast about as legal argument on this issue – by both sides.

Are the liberal proponents of the mandate, who bellow “it is absurd to even question the issue, obviously the mandate is within the Commerce power!” really willing to follow the import and implication of their arguments out to their conclusion?

Are the conservative opponents of the mandate, who screech “this is unprecedented, and of course Article III courts have the innate power and authority to ban a facially valid law of Congress under the Commerce/Necessary and Proper Clauses!” really willing to accept that authority, control and micromanagement of Article I Congressional will by the Article III courts? Because that is not exactly what they normally say.

There is actually a bit of a paradox in both side’s positions vis a vis their normal views; liberals usually accept more control and regulation by courts on Congressional action as a check and balance, conservatives usually vehemently argue courts have no such proper role.

This is about far more than Obama’s questionably cobbled together ACA law; the law is inane in how it soaks Americans to benefit craven insurance companies. Either way, sooner or later, healthcare as constructed and/or mandated by the ACA will die a painful death, but will continue to decimate American families for years, irrespective of the ruling by the Supreme Court on its nominal constitutionality. At some point, single payer, such as “Medicare For All” is inevitable.

However, the pervasive effects of the Commerce/Necessary & Proper Clause determination on the individual mandate, caused by the nightmarishly cobbled together Obamacare, will shape the direction of the Supreme Court in relation to commerce, business interests and, indeed, potentially American life across the board, for decades, if not lifetimes, to come.

That is what is at stake this week. Yes, it is that big. No, it is not that easy or clear cut. I do not know how it all sorts out for sure, but I do I do think, unlike the vast majority of the political commentators opining in the ether, the Supreme Court understands the consequences for the long run and the gravity of what they are considering. That said, it is still a very political decision for the Supreme beings, and how they calculate that, vis a vis history, is anybody’s guess.

One thing IS certain, when the dust has settled, one side will say the Supremes are beautiful minds, and the other will say they are craven activist tyrants. That is life in the modern Article III existence. Game on!

Rick Scott Just Can’t Stop Shoveling Federal Money to HCA

The resemblance is . . . striking.

Rick Scott, who remarkably is Florida’s Governor rather than an inmate in the federal prison system, just can’t break out of the behavior that resulted in HCA (where he was CEO) paying a record $1.7 billion in fines to the federal government for Medicare fraud and taking the Fifth Amendment no less than 75 times in a subsequent deposition. Today, we learn that despite apparently no longer owning a significant amount of HCA stock (pdf), Scott’s latest proposal for cutting state funding to hospitals in order to restore funding to education would selectively enrich HCA hospitals while putting in place draconian cuts at public hospitals that provide large amounts of service to the poor and uninsured.

Of course, we knew from even before Scott took office that he planned to punish public hospitals in the state at the expense of private ones (the original Miami Herald article on this topic no longer comes up when searching their site, so one of the multiple online copies is used here):

Florida’s government-owned hospitals will be in the political cross hairs after Tuesday’s inauguration of Rick Scott, once leader of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain.

The governor-elect’s transition team has recommended creation of a panel to study whether government-owned hospitals — Miami-Dade’s Jackson Health System among them – are necessary.

So, given that Scott has a history of illegally enriching HCA and that we knew from before he was even sworn into office that he wanted to end public hospitals, this should not be a surprise:

Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to cut about $2 billion in public funding to hospitals that care for the poor is devastating and even ridiculous, say hospital leaders who predict patient care will suffer if it is enacted.


But because most Medicaid dollars come from the federal government, the move would free up about $422 million in state tax dollars for education. The rest would be federal matching funds that Florida would lose, said Bruce Rueben, president of the Florida Hospital Association.

Oh that’s just brilliant, isn’t it? Scott wants to lose more than a billion and a half in federal funding just so he can cut hospital funding by a little under half a billion. But those cuts are not administered fairly:

What’s more, he and others say, Scott has structured the cuts in a way that hits hardest at “safety net” hospitals that provide the most care for poor people. Yet a few for-profit hospitals — including some owned by Scott’s former employer Hospital Corporation of America — would actually get more tax funds under his plan.

Tampa General Hospital and All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg would each face estimated cuts of more than $70 million, according to the Florida Hospital Association. But three Pinellas HCA hospitals — Largo Medical Center, St. Petersburg General and Northside — would each get a few million more.

The obligatory “I have not seen those numbers” quote from Scott denying that he was aware his plan enriches his old partners in crime is not in the least credible.

Only someone as warped as Rick Scott could come up with the idea that the proper way to fund education is to deny healthcare treatment for the poor while enriching healthcare robber barons. Scott’s plan has not yet been enacted into to law and there are even suggestions that some Republicans in the legislature won’t go along with the plan as structured, so there is a small bit of hope that at least a little bit of sanity can be folded back into Florida’s budgeting plan for next year.

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