Is health care ruling Obama's 'Read my lips: No new taxes' moment?
Republicans are beating up on President Obama because the Supreme Court said the Affordable Care Act is tied to new taxes. But that could be a problem for Mitt Romney given his record in Massachusetts.
Luke Sharrett/The New York Times/AP
Here‚Äôs how we got to this moment:
In launching what he‚Äôs now happy to call ‚ÄúObamacare‚ÄĚ back in 2009, the President likened the proposed penalty for not having health care coverage to car insurance. "Nobody considers that a tax increase,‚ÄĚ he told ABC News. ‚ÄúPeople say to themselves, 'that is a fair way to make sure that if you hit my car, that I'm not covering all the costs.' "
Fast-forward to last week and the US Supreme Court‚Äôs startling decision to uphold the ACA as constitutional.
Speaking for the court majority regarding the individual mandate, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: "The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax."¬†
Boom. Obamacare passes constitutional muster because its chief element is a tax.
"The Supreme Court has spoken,‚ÄĚ declared Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. ‚ÄúThis law is a tax."
"Obama's health care law is actually one of the largest tax increases in history," the ad's narrator says. "Shouldn't Obama's priorities have been creating jobs and ending reckless spending?"
Meanwhile, key Democrats were all over the Sunday morning TV blabfests denying the charge.
‚ÄúThis is a penalty. It‚Äôs something that only 1 percent of people who can afford insurance and choose not to get it will pay,‚ÄĚ White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said on CNN‚Äôs ‚ÄúState of the Union.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúEveryone who has insurance, everyone who chooses to buy insurance will not pay it. What they‚Äôre going to get is security ‚Äď they‚Äôre going to get lower premiums and better health care. That‚Äôs a good thing for the American people.‚ÄĚ
Speaking on NBC's "Meet The Press,"¬†House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accurately parsed the Supreme Court‚Äôs ruling this way: ‚ÄúIt's a penalty that comes under the tax code.‚ÄĚ But she stumbled a bit in doing so, points out Josh Gerstein at Politico.com. "It's a ta ‚Äď it‚Äôs a penalty for free riders," Pelosi said, nearly uttering the dreaded T-word before cutting herself off.
(Interesting historical note unearthed by Jonathan Alter writing on Newsweek‚Äôs Daily Beast web site: Back in 1935, while the conservative Supreme Court was taking on much of FDR‚Äôs ‚ÄúNew Deal,‚ÄĚ it let stand Social Security because of the federal government‚Äôs taxing power.)
There‚Äôs just one teensy problem in all of this for Republicans and their presumptive presidential nominee, the man whose chief legislative achievement as governor of Massachusetts was a state health care insurance program that remains popular with most people there and was used as a model for Obama‚Äôs Affordable Care Act.
‚Äú[W]e established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance,‚ÄĚ Mitt Romney wrote in a¬†2009 USA Today column. ‚ÄúUsing tax penalties, as we did ‚Ä¶ encourages ‚Äėfree riders‚Äô to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others.‚ÄĚ
That's "tax penalties," otherwise known as "taxes."