A new cause for secession?

August 1, 2012

The idea that Texas' sovereignty is threatened by Obama's health care law is the latest reactionary idea to fall under the heading of states' rights, says Jason Netek.

IF RICK Perry can't secede from the Union, he wants to at least secede from the Union's health care system.

On July 9, Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius declaring that his state has no intention of accepting various provisions of the Obama administration's health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act, which he calls a "socialist power grab" by the federal government.

That the U.S. government is in any way socialist is, of course, preposterous, but behind the cheap political theater is a serious issue. A quarter of Texas' population has no health insurance of any kind, and the state has the lowest-rated health care services in the country.

But Rick Perry believes--in his heart of hearts--that the opposite must be true. In a Fox News interview, he proudly asserted that every Texan has access to health care--and the finest health facilities in the world to boot.

He's so sure of the private health industry that even though Texas received $1 million in federal dollars to complete a review of insurance rates--which is mandatory when insurance companies hike rates by more than 10 percent--the Texas Department of Insurance hasn't completed a single review. Even after a review is complete, the state is not authorized to adjust the rates in any way. Private companies in turn are free to raise their rates without having undergone a review--and they are doing just that.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (Gage Skidmore)

According to the governor, however, the health care issue is neither one of affordability nor quality. The issue at hand is freedom.

Perry has lambasted "Obamacare" as a nationally imposed solution that doesn't take into account the health care needs of individuals. But for all that is clearly wrong with Obama's health care reform that's so friendly to the insurance industry, Perry's issues are not with the part that requires Americans to buy health insurance from private companies.

To Perry, the real problem lies in the creation of online marketplaces for insurance exchanges and in the expansion of Medicaid, the federal health care program for the poor.

Perry has concluded that whatever these "state exchanges" would be, they would erode "Texan autonomy" from Washington. He has further concluded that Medicaid is, in fact, a failed program and likened its extension to adding more passengers to the Titanic. His fear is that by accepting any broadening of Medicaid, Texas would find itself bankrupted by the expense.

The actual terms of the expansion would enroll as many as 2 million uninsured Texans in Medicaid--at Washington's expense, not Texas'--until 2020. Then Texas would have to figure out how to pay for 10 percent of the costs.

To you, this might seem like a bargain--especially considering that all this health care for uninsured Texans would not affect the crisis-stricken budget in the state with the sixth-lowest business taxes. But to Perry, this would, in his words, "make Texas a mere appendage of the federal government when it comes to health care." The assumption, of course, is that the government of Texas is something far greater than that.

ALSO ON July 9, the Texas attorney general issued a statement that the Texas Women's Health Program (TWHP) will exclude not only abortion providers but also abortion "promoters," which is apparently intended to mean any institution that acknowledges the existence of abortion.

This is not the first time that Texas and the federal government have squared off on this issue. In April, a federal judge intervened in Texas with a ruling that overturned a new state law that would have barred Planned Parenthood from the TWHP, which some 130,000 low-income women rely on.

Again, Texas officials seem to believe that Texas is "standing up" to a federal government that has become "too big for its britches" and is running around forcing states to provide access to abortion to their female populations. It's the same stand Perry took in rejecting federal money in 2009 for unemployment insurance and in 2010 for education funding. According to the governor, using tax money to help struggling people even just a little bit is an infringement upon the sovereignty of the state.

The cry of "states' rights" has long been the slogan of politicians seeking to justify their own oppressive social policies--from the defense of slavery through segregation and up to the institutional discrimination against LGBT people. In this particular instance, the right in question is the right to deny important services to people who can't afford to purchase them from private companies.

Perry insists his ardent belief in "states' rights" is not rooted in prejudice. "Let me preempt the naysayers out there who want to paint me as a backward Southern governor," he writes in his book Fed Up. One can understand his fear. Perry has a real knack for coming across exactly like one of those backward Southern governors whenever his lips move.

The governor became infamous for his pandering to secessionist sentiment in Texas at a 2009 Tea Party rally. While his defenders have since attempted to explain his comments away as less than an actual endorsement of secession, they had a harder time with a "joke" he made around the same time to a group of bloggers taking a tour of the state Capitol building. According to Perry, "When we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation, and one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we're kind of thinking about that again."

Perry's delusions aside, Texas actually has no legal right to secede. It is in fact a total myth. Since the rapid demise of the Tea Party as a political force, the governor has toned down the overtly secessionist rhetoric, but his states' rights rhetoric today is not much different. Perry is pandering to the lowest common denominator in Southern political thought.

What Rick Perry really has to fear has less to do with socialism and more to do with the fact that he seems less fit for office every time he opens his mouth.

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