President Barack Obama and his deputies are increasing their effort to deny that the individual mandate within Obama’s 2010 health care law is a tax, even after the Supreme Court upheld the law only because it was a tax.
“It’s a penalty… He’s said that it’s a penalty,” Obama’s campaign press secretary, Ben LaBolt, insisted on CNN July 5.
On June 28 the court upheld the law because Chief Justice John Roberts decided that its main enforcement mechanism — a penalty for people who decline to buy health insurance — could be interpreted as a tax.
Roberts said if it was not a tax, the law would be unconstitutional.
Roberts provided a fifth vote to uphold the controversial law. Four progressive judges sided with the Democratic Party’s view that the law is proper because the government has the unwritten legal authority to make people buy services.
The Democrats’ evasions have prompted ridicule from the GOP, which is eager to hang the law’s $1.76 trillion cost around Obama’s neck during the 2012 election.
The law is expected to cost roughly $800 billion in new taxes over the next 10 years. It’s additional costs are partially offset by the $500 billion elimination of the popular Medicare Advantage program.
The campaign’s effort to avoid the tax tag “takes us back to Obama’s unsustainable paradox,“ said GOP spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.
“They either consider his signature law an unconstitutional penalty or a constitutional tax,” she said in a July 5 statement.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has also upped the pressure, telling a CBS reporter July 4 that the insurance mandate is a tax because the court declared it to be a tax. “The Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation and it said that it’s a tax, so it’s a tax… and what I’d like to hear is how President Obama can say he doesn’t think it’s a tax,” he said.
Obama “disagrees with the court… then he must think the bill is unconstitutional because, in order to find it constitutional, they had to find it a tax,” Romney added.
To avoid the tax taint, LaBolt also claimed on CNN that the administration never tried to persuade the Supreme Court that the law’s mandate is a tax.
“It never referred to it as a — it never referred to it as a tax. It said that it was a penalty. And that’s under the section of the law that is the tax code, but it said very specifically that it’s a penalty,” LaBolt said.
However, the Republican National Committee quickly responded by emailing transcripts of the judges’ debate with the administration’s chief lawyer, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.
GENERAL VERRILLI: “It is justifiable under its tax power.”
JUSTICE [Antonin] SCALIA: “Okay. Extraordinary.”
LaBolt argued that the tax is a penalty intended to punish people who use the free medical care provided by hospitals at the behest of the federal government.
“It’s a penalty for that one percent of the population who can afford health insurance but hasn’t chosen to get it… the fact is that has led the rest of us to pay a hidden tax of $1,000 a year.”