The Mitt Romney campaign has set off howls of scorn and outrage over its fumbling of the question of whether or not the monetary fine for failing to buy health insurance under Obamacare is a penalty or a tax.
First it was Eric Ferhnstrom, Mr. Romney’s chief political adviser, who called the mandate a “penalty.” On Sunday, Mr. Romney contracted him, saying that as far as he was concerned the mandate was a tax.
There is little substantive difference how the fee is characterized, and there may be only a limited political matter, but from the Romney camp’s perspective, calling the fine a tax–as Chief Justice John Roberts did in the Supreme Court decision legalizing the act–means that Mr. Obama reneged on one of his key campaign promises by raising taxes. However, since the bill is so similar to the one that Mr. Romney signed in Massachusetts–and which also has a mandate–calling it a tax means that Mr. Romney raised taxes as well.
Now however the Romney is interested in putting the confusion behind it and pointing to what they say in the Obama campaign’s confusion.
This morning on CNN, Mr. Obama’s spokesman, Ben Labolt, said that the fine was a penalty, no matter what the Supreme Court says.
“It’s a penalty,” he said. “You saw our arguments before the Supreme Court. You’ve seen what the president has said over the past several years that it’s a penalty for that 1% of the population who can afford health insurance but hasn’t chosen to get it. Because the fact is that has led the rest of us to pay a hidden tax of $1,000 a year.”
The problem with labeling the mandate a penalty is that the federal government is limited in what kinds of fines it can levy from the citizenry; Congress’ ability to tax is beyond dispute, but its ability to asses penalties less so.
Thus, according to the Romney campaign, the Obama administration is conceding that Obamacare is unconstitutional, since its constituionality depends on the mandate being a tax.
“In a curious development, President Obama apparently disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling upholding his health care law,” said Amanda Henneberg, a Romney campaign spokeswoman. “It’s too bad he doesn’t also see that Obamacare is bad policy and bad law. On day one of his presidency, Mitt Romney will begin the process of repealing and replacing Obamacare.”
Both parties seem to want to avoid talking much about health care and so instead will talk about it by talking about the other side’s internal inconsistencies.