This must have been the Friday night news dump from the White House, but if so, it’s rather stale. The New York Times reports that the Obama administration will defend the ObamaCare mandates as part of its power to tax, despite Barack Obama’s contentious debate with George Stephanopoulos when Obama denied it was a tax at all:
When Congress required most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, Democrats denied that they were creating a new tax. But in court, the Obama administration and its allies now defend the requirement as an exercise of the government’s “power to lay and collect taxes.”
And that power, they say, is even more sweeping than the federal power to regulate interstate commerce.
Administration officials say the tax argument is a linchpin of their legal case in defense of the health care overhaul and its individual mandate, now being challenged in court by more than 20 states and several private organizations.
This qualified as breaking news … three months ago, when the Wall Street Journal first reported that Congress had attempted to quietly create a platform for such an argument. Randy Barnett argued at the time that it wouldn’t work:
This shift won’t work. The Supreme Court will not allow staffers and lawyers to change the statutory cards that Congress already dealt when it adopted the Senate language.
In the 1920s, when Congress wanted to prohibit activity that was then deemed to be solely within the police power of states, it tried to penalize the activity using its tax power. In Bailey v. Drexel Furniture (1922) the Supreme Court struck down such a penalty saying, “there comes a time in the extension of the penalizing features of the so-called tax when it loses its character as such and becomes a mere penalty with the characteristics of regulation and punishment.”
That is exactly what the mandates do — regulate individual behavior in an area where the federal government has no jurisdiction and punish those who don’t exhibit favored choices, in this case buying comprehensive health insurance regardless of whether it makes sense for anyone. This court will almost certainly take a dim view of the same attempt that the 1922 court struck down as a gross overreach by the government.
But just for fun, let’s look once again at the President insisting that the mandate couldn’t possibly be tax:
Oops! Sorry, wrong clip. Here it is:
OBAMA: No. That’s not true, George. The — for us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. What it’s saying is, is that we’re not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you anymore than the fact that right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase.
People 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.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it may be fair, it may be good public policy…
OBAMA: No, but — but, George, you — you can’t just make up that language and decide that that’s called a tax increase. Any…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Here’s the…
OBAMA: What — what — if I — if I say that right now your premiums are going to be going up by 5 or 8 or 10 percent next year and you say well, that’s not a tax increase; but, on the other hand, if I say that I don’t want to have to pay for you not carrying coverage even after I give you tax credits that make it affordable, then…
STEPHANOPOULOS: I — I don’t think I’m making it up. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary: Tax — “a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes.”
OBAMA: George, the fact that you looked up Merriam’s Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you’re stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition.
How much do you want to bet that at least one of the Supreme Court justices quotes Obama in that last sentence to challenge the White House defense of the mandates?