It’s not uncommon for people to think of a president as a sort of omnipotent king. When we see some state doing something offensive or outrageous, some Americans very likely wonder, “Why doesn’t President Obama do something about this?”
The unsatisfying answer, of course, is that it’s not really up to the White House to serve as a check on state actions, and the president often doesn’t have the legal authority to prevent state officials from adopting misguided policies.
But once in a while, the federal executive branch can intervene to defend a president’s priorities. The Washington Post reported this week, for example:
The Obama administration on Tuesday warned officials in all 50 states that actions to end Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood may be out of compliance with federal law.Ten states have taken action or recently passed legislation to cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood after antiabortion activists released covertly filmed video in the summer purporting to show that the women’s health organization and abortion provider illegally sold fetal tissue for a profit. Planned Parenthood supporters have criticized the videos as deceptively edited, and multiple state investigations have turned up no wrongdoing on the part of the organization.
Courts have already rejected some state efforts related to Planned Parenthood, but the administration’s letter was part reminder, part shot across state officials’ bow. As the Post’s piece added, under federal policy, “[T]erminating certain providers from Medicaid is only justifiable if those providers are unable to perform covered medical services or can’t bill for those services. The guidance emphasizes that states cannot target providers for impermissible reasons and are required to treat similar types of providers equitably.”
The Washington Monthly’s Nancy LeTourneau added yesterday that states that choose to ignore the administration’s reminder will likely jeopardize federal funding.
And while we’re on the topic, let’s not forget that we’re not just talking about Planned Parenthood.
Mississippi’s and North Carolina’s new anti-LGBT laws may not seem like the sort of thing the White House can undermine, but as Rachel noted on the show a couple of weeks ago, both states stand to lose out on billions of dollars in federal funds as a result of the new policies.
Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece, and her state affiliate is not at risk of losing state funding.