By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Weekly Commentary | Chicago Sun-Times
The tea party effort to torpedo health-care reform at the federal level has been repelled, but only after the campaign shut down the government, threatened default on the U.S. debt and cost the country billions. But that victory should not blind us to how destructive the rejectionists have been at the state level. In the name of states’ rights, right-wing governors and legislators will leave some 8 million impoverished and low-wage Americans uninsured and ineligible for any assistance.
The reason is that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority resuscitated the pernicious doctrine of “states’ rights.” When they found ObamaCcare constitutional, the majority ruled that states had a “right” to refuse to expand Medicaid. Medicaid expansion was designed to cover the poorest half of those now without health insurance.
Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid would be expanded to cover those with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (now $19,530 for a family of three). The federal government would pay the full cost until 2016, when states would be asked to pick up only 10 percent of the cost of expansion.
Led by Republican governors and legislators, 26 states, including every state in the deep South outside of Arkansas, have thus far refused to support expansion of Medicaid, turning their backs on literally billions in federal subsidies to cover health-care costs for the uninsured (although recently Republican governors in Ohio and Pennsylvania ended their opposition).
This is the modern version of George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door to reject integration. The states rejecting Medicaid expansion have about one-half the nation’s population, but over two thirds of the uninsured poor who’d be eligible under the law. The leading targets are people of color. Two thirds of otherwise eligible and uninsured poor African Americans will be barred from getting affordable health care.
Once more, we see the harsh reality behind “states’ rights.” From the Civil War to the civil rights movement, from slavery to segregation, the argument of states’ rights has been unfurled as the banner of those looking to punish black people. And once more, right-wing leaders are acting against the best interests of their own people and their own states to keep people of color locked out. They would allow poor whites to suffer rather than allow the black poor to benefit. These governors are not standing up for the Constitution. They’re playing the race-bait politics of division once more.
And not surprisingly, this reversion to states’ rights is accompanied by systematic state efforts to suppress the vote. Many of the same governors who’ve led the fight against health-care reform are pushing measures that make it harder for poor and working people — disproportionately people of color — to vote. They’ve reduced early voting, ended voting on Sundays, added new ID requirements, closed down convenient polling booths, opposed same-day registration and more. The only way to keep people down is to lock them out.
Republican governors, of course, don’t admit the racial poison at the root of their policies. They say their states can’t afford the expansion (even though the federal government picks up the entire tab until 2016 and 90 percent thereafter). They rail against health-care reform as “socialism,” even though every industrial nation in the world except the U.S. provides affordable health care to its citizens.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas says the Affordable Care Act would reduce Texas to a mere “appendage of federal government.” (Perry apparently doesn’t understand that Texas is a part of the union.)
Historically, there has only been one remedy against the use of states’ right to inflict racially poisonous policies, and that has been forceful federal intervention. It took a Civil War and constitutional amendments to end slavery. It took a civil rights movement and federal legislation to end apartheid in the South. And now poor and working people will need to rise up once more and insist that the federal government step in to make certain that all American have access to affordable health care, no matter what the color of their skin, the amount of their income or the state they live in.
The Democratic governors who stood in the schoolhouse door against integration — George Wallace, Orval Faubus, Ross Barnett — are remembered in infamy. Now the Republican governors who stand in the hospital door — Rick Scott of Florida, Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — will surely end up in the same hall of shame.