Washingon Examiner: Obamacare backers slip when 'tax' is mentioned

Published: July 5, 2012

OBAMACARE says every American must purchase a government-approved insurance policy or else pay a fine. Had Chief Justice John Roberts been unwilling to treat this provision as a tax in last week's Supreme Court ruling — despite much evidence to the contrary — all of Obamacare would have been wiped off the books. How amusing it is, therefore, to watch Obama's surrogates examine the teeth of the gift horse the Roberts court has given them.

On the Sunday interview shows, they spun furiously against the idea that Obamacare's individual insurance mandate is a tax. The spinners included White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “It's a penalty that comes under the tax code,” Pelosi said on “Meet the Press.” She then nearly slipped and called it a tax as she argued that it was not a tax. “It's a ta — it's a penalty for free riders,” she said.

One can forgive Pelosi for her confusion here, because she and President Obama are trying to have it both ways. When Obama's solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, argued in court that the mandate both was and was not a tax, at least he was engaging in an accepted legal tactic — “arguing in the alternative,” by which an attorney makes a second argument for his position in case the first one is rejected. But once the issues of law and fact are settled, there is no more argument in the alternative, nor is such an argument ever persuasive in the political arena. There is only what George Orwell called “doublethink” — the simultaneous acceptance of two mutually contradictory ideas. Obama's allies want to wear the “tax” fig leaf that the court's 5-4 majority gave them, and also go naked at the same time.

The Democrats' hesitation to accept Obamacare as a tax hike comes in defense of Obama's early promise not to raise taxes on the middle class — a broad promise ruling out even “one single dime” and “any form of tax increase,” which he made without any qualifications. In fact, Obama has not been terribly solicitous of this promise anyway — note, for example, his imposition of a cigarette tax hike in early 2009. Given the Supreme Court's capricious decision to modify the rules governing Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, this newly anointed tax will likely fall upon the uninsured working poor. Obama would rather not go before the voters this fall with such an obvious breach of his tax promise on record.

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