May 24 will mark the 75th anniversary of Helvering, Commissioner of Internal Revenue, et al, vs. Davis, the landmark Supreme Court decision upholding Social Security. It would be fitting, if the high court rules in favor of the Affordable Care Act, that it announce the decision on the date Social Security was affirmed. The health care legislation is a logical, if belated, extension of the safety net initiated by Congress in 1937.
The specific feature of Social Security at issue in Helvering vs. Davis was the payment of Federal Old Age benefits. The noise you hear in the background is the gnashing of teeth and foaming at the mouth over features of the law. Congress actually voted to RAISE taxes on employers and employees to pay people to do NOTHING!!! Nevertheless, the high court ruling upholding the monthly pensions wasn’t even close – 7-2.
The current Supreme Court seems to be at loggerheads over the health-care law though it is a vastly more modest step than what the court approved 75 years ago. After all, then the government wrote checks with no strings attached. Beneficiaries, then as now, could spend the money on booze or any foolish Ponzi scheme. By contrast, not a penny of the money spent under the health care law goes into the pockets of ordinary Americans. They benefit, but only because health-care providers – physicians, nurses, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.—provide them services under the law.
Some of the justices seemed to believe that if they uphold the law they would arm big brother with the power to demand that people buy vegetables. Seventy-five years of experience with old age pensions shows how silly is that suggestion. It shows also that if Congress can vote pensions for people it is no stretch at all to vote to pay for their health care.