Giant Tax Increase Or Cynical Nonsense?

Twenty-four hours after the US Supreme Court handed down their ruling on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, and the Republican Party’s initial line of attack against the new reality is starting to emerge. (1) Push, at every opportunity, the line that ObamaCare represents a massive tax increase for all Americans, and (2) sow fear that the IRS is poised to start hammering at the doors of the uninsured (a group for which the GOP seems to have suddenly developed strong and protective feelings of filial loyalty) with threats of wage garnishment or prison.

As this piece from Politico, discussing Romney’s likely response to the SCOTUS decision, says:

To the Romney campaign, the ruling left the ACA looking like a richer target than ever: The justices upheld the law — leaving its unpopular provisions intact as a campaign issue — but did so on the grounds that the mandate requiring all Americans to purchase insurance is a “tax,” a traditionally easy target for Republicans.

One strategist aligned with Romney called that “the best-case scenario of it being upheld: It’s upheld as nothing but a massive tax hike.”

“President Obama just turned GOP intensity amps up to 11,” the strategist said.

And in this article, the new line of argument is laid bare:

Everyone from tea party stars to establishmentarians to possible 2016 presidential contenders seized on the tax language in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 majority opinion, which included Chief Justice John Roberts.

“‘Obamacare’ raises taxes on the American people by approximately $500 billion,” said Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. “‘Obamacare’ cuts Medicare by approximately $500 billion. And even with those cuts, and tax increases, ‘Obamacare’ adds trillions to our deficits and to our national debt and pushes those obligations on to coming generations.”

Unfortunately for the GOP, there is precious little evidence to support either of their new assertions. My stance on the Republican Party’s new line of argument against ObamaCare is this:

  • If you are a hard-pressed middle class American doing the ‘right’ thing and keeping health insurance either individually or through your employer, exactly how does ObamaCare represent a tax increase for you? You don’t have to pay the ‘fine’, and your insurance premiums should actually start to fall as more healthy people are brought into the insurance pool.
  • If you are doing the ‘wrong’ thing and not buying health insurance when you could afford to, then surely you are a parasite within the system, clogging up emergency rooms when your untreated conditions come to a head, and leaving yourself unable to pay any unplanned medical expenses that you incur, forcing insurance companies to charge higher premiums to everyone. That’s not exactly responsible citizenry, so are Republicans really going to act aghast in horror that this group of people will have to pay a fine, or a ‘tax’ as interpreted by the Supreme Court, to compensate for the negative externality that they are creating?
  • If you are doing the ‘wrong’ thing and not buying health insurance because you cannot afford to, the government will help you to buy it in the private marketplace, as I understand it using funds raised from fining people with the ability to pay who choose not to.

To me, the embryonic Republican response to defeat at the Supreme Court appears to be dumbed-down politics at its worst. Having had their well-worn argument that ObamaCare is a gross constitutional overreach taken away, they have reverted to the tax increase argument, not because there is any compelling evidence to support it but because of a semantic technicality in the language of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Republicans love to be on the side of defending people against higher taxes – a very worthy stance, and one which I share – but are they really going in to bat now exclusively for people who freely choose not to purchase health insurance, and burden everyone else with the costs of that attendant risk? I think I would almost rather be known for advocating tax cuts just for billionnaires.

It is too early yet to see how this new GOP line of attack will play in the media and the opinion polls, but given the fact that I managed to deconstruct it on my blog in less than ten minutes, I do hope (and sadly it is hope rather than expect) that proponents of the Affordable Care Act will be able to do so with even more effectiveness, and show this sudden Republican concern about ‘raising taxes’ on the willingly uninsured to be the cynical nonsense that it is.

The Aftermath Of The ObamaCare Ruling

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After reading and trying to digest a representative slice of the masses of coverage of the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the majority of President Obama’s healthcare law, I think that this article from perhaps does the best job of defining the winners and losers, and explaining the potential political consequences of the decision.

Their overall view – that while the decision vindicates Obama’s signature policy achievement to date and affirms that all of the spent debating and passing the law was perhaps not wasted after all, it is quite probably the Republicans who will come away from this episode more energised and motivated as we head into election season:

If the law had been struck down in whole or in large parts, it would have endorsed Mitt Romney’s claim that President Obama committed a double sin: He wasted the precious start of his presidency on a wrong-headed scheme while ignoring a weak economy. But what now? Just because the Supreme Court upheld the law doesn’t mean the legislation is popular. The president avoided a big defeat, but Mitt Romney’s conservative base is energized. The net result is that it was a good day politically for the president, but it’s a small net.

The article shows that Obama, having taken a lot of fire from his political enemies over the law, was keen to claim the victory for himself, and I did note that the unfortunate Obama tendency to take personal credit where it should be shared (with others in his administration, and with those in congress who did a lot of the legwork) and his overuse of the word “I” has come creeping back a little:

The president echoed some of that sentiment Thursday after the ruling. It should be pretty clear by now that I didn’t do this because it was good politics,” he said in the East Room of the White House, where he had signed the legislation two years earlier. “I did it because I believed it was good for the country. I did it because I believed it was good for the American people.” The president mentioned politics 10 times in the short speech, always putting himself at arm’s length from that dirty business.

Other outlets, including Politico, make the point that Obama will be keen to move on from this victory, trying to portray the Republicans as a backward-looking party interested only in relitigating past battles rather than proposing future solutions or improvements to the existing law:

Later, several of Obama’s top White House advisers, speaking on condition that they not be quoted directly, told reporters Thursday’s decision doesn’t portend a strategic shift in which Obama begins to make the nitty-gritty of health care reform a centerpiece of his campaign.

And they seemed almost giddy at the prospect of congressional Republicans, incensed by the high court’s ruling, pursuing repeal efforts or other attacks on the law over the next weeks and months.

Time will tell if the Republicans do decide to adopt this stance, and whether or not it brings them success.

And finally, of course, some of those on the extreme right were so upset that they started advocating armed rebellion against the US government. From Michigan Capitol Confidential:

A Lansing-based civil rights attorney who has held positions with the Michigan Republican Party and Department of Corrections, questioned in a widely distributed email today whether armed rebellion was justified over the Supreme Court ruling upholding Obamacare.

Matthew Davis sent the email moments after the Supreme Court ruling to numerous new media outlets and limited government activists with the headline: “Is Armed Rebellion Now Justified?”

He stressed that he wasn’t calling for armed rebellion but added his own personal note to the email, saying, “… here’s my response. And yes, I mean it.”

Getting worked up and convincing himself that the Supreme Court’s ruling all but sounds the death knell for American freedom and democracy, former GOP operative Matthew Davis wrote:

“If government can mandate that I pay for something I don’t want, then what is beyond its power?” he wrote. “If the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday paves the way for unprecedented intrusion into personal decisions, than has the Republic all but ceased to exist? If so, then is armed rebellion today justified? God willing, this oppression will be lifted and America free again before the first shot is fired.”

In the meantime, while President Obama and Mitt Romney try to work out how best to take advantage of the ruling for their election campaigns, and while Matthew Davis from Ohio dusts off his replica revolutionary war uniform and loads his musket, the American people can look forward to the remaining provisions in the Affordable Care Act slowly coming into effect. Or being enslaved by a tyrannical, overbearing federal government.

Y’know, which ever way you choose to look at it.

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