Did Hurricane Sandy Save Obamacare? How Disaster Relief Justifies the Welfare State

By Farber, Dan | The Washington Monthly, January-February 2013 | Go to article overview

Did Hurricane Sandy Save Obamacare? How Disaster Relief Justifies the Welfare State


Farber, Dan, The Washington Monthly


The Sympathetic State: Disaster Relief and the Origins of the American Welfare State

by Michael Landis Dauber

University of Chicago Press, 378 pp.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Among the notable events of 2012 were Hurricane Sandy and the Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare. The two did not seem to have much in common. Yet, as it turns out, there is a deep historical linkage between the welfare state (in this case Obamacare), constitutional law (the Supreme Court's decision to uphold that law), and natural disasters (Sandy). In her new book, The Sympathetic State: Disaster Relief and the Origins of the American Welfare State, Michele Landis Dauber, law professor and sociologist at Stanford University, does not discuss these recent events directly, but her research allows us to see some surprising connections.

In upholding the Affordable Health Care Act, Chief Justice John Roberts invoked the clause in the Constitution that empowers Congress to levy taxes and pay debts for the general welfare of the country. The Medicaid provision in the AHCA represents that spending power. Roberts upheld Congress's ability to fund the expansion if states were willing, but said they could not be compelled to participate. The individual mandate, he wrote, was not justified by the commerce clause, but could be considered a valid exercise of the tax power. Thus, federal power to pursue "the general welfare" was the key to upholding the statute.

The AHCA was the most notable expansion of the welfare state in decades. It was no coincidence that it relied on the congressional power to tax and spend for the general welfare. The same powers were used to justify the creation of much of the welfare state during the New Deal, with the general welfare given an equally broad definition. That much is well known. What Dauber adds, however, is evidence that the breadth of these powers was not a New Deal creation. Instead, she argues, the broad conception of the general welfare grew out of the long history of federal disaster relief, which Congress and the public had always viewed as being appropriate for preserving public health and safety. But her evidence sheds new light on how our modern welfare state and our modern views of federalism have evolved in tandem. Indeed, disaster relief provided the first seeds of the welfare state and its constitutional framework.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a relatively recent creation, but, as Dauber shows, federal disaster assistance stretches back to the early days of the Republic when Congress began to provide help for the victims of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12 and during the War of 1812. By the Civil War era, Congress had passed fifty relief bills covering everything from Mississippi River floods to the devastation of the Kansas grasshopper plague of 1874. Even fervent believers in states' rights rarely expressed constitutional qualms about federal disaster relief. Between 1860 and 1930, there were more than ninety additional federal relief provisions, in addition to the millions expended in the South after the Civil War. From time to time, a few southerners voiced halfhearted constitutional objections that were uniformly disregarded. There was a nearly complete consensus that disaster relief fell within Congress's power to tax and spend for the general welfare.

By 1890, Congress had compiled a table listing past relief efforts stretching back to earthquake relief in 1812. For decades afterward, the table was periodically updated and republished by congressional committees. After 1890, the long history of disaster relief became an important argument for other forms of federal spending.

This history assumed new significance during the Great Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt initially portrayed the Depression as an emergency, but by 1936 he was calling it a "disaster." Just as the "strong arm of the Nation" was needed, he said, for immediate relief and in "taking measures of prevention before natural disasters occur," so too was it "needed equally in taking measures to prevent economic disasters, which are not natural but are made by man.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Did Hurricane Sandy Save Obamacare? How Disaster Relief Justifies the Welfare State
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.