Republicans, Democrats spar over health care fee
June 29th, 2012
12:57 PM ET
10 years ago

Republicans, Democrats spar over health care fee

(CNN) - While Democrats say the issue has been settled, Republicans argue the debate over health care reform is not over yet.

One day after the Supreme Court announced its decision to uphold the controversial health care law passed in 2010, the GOP is pushing a message Friday that the law imposes a substantial tax hike on the American public.

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"What happened yesterday calls for greater urgency, I believe, in the election," Romney said at a New York City fund-raiser Friday morning.

A focal point of the high court's deliberation was the law's individual mandate, which will eventually require people to buy health insurance or pay a fee.

The court ruled that the fee was a tax rather than a penalty, and therefore decided the law was constitutional.

"It is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. "Such legislation is within Congress's power to tax."

Republicans, however, point to a 2009 interview in which President Barack Obama forcefully argued against the notion that the fee would amount to a tax.

"For us to say that you've got to take responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase," he told ABC News.

Now that the high court says it is a tax, however, Republicans are taking it and running with it as a major sticking point against the health care law.

"Make no mistake about it: This is a whopping tax on the citizens of the United States," Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia said on a conference call Friday organized by the Republican National Committee.

He added that the health care law "represents one of the largest tax increases on the middle class that we've ever seen."

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana said his state would flat out refuse to enforce the health care law.

"We don't think it makes any sense to implement 'Obamacare' in Lousiana," said Jindal, who was also on the RNC call. "We're going to do everything we can to fight it."

Asked how he would resist federal requirements, Jindal said his state has not started applying for grants or begun building the infrastructure to set up the law's insurance exchange program.

Also of note, Jindal accidentally slipped up on the call by beginning to refer to "Obamacare" as "Obamneycare," a term coined by Mitt Romney's former GOP opponent Tim Pawlenty last year to mock the similarities between Obama's plan and the one signed into law by Romney when he served as Massachusetts governor. Jindal caught himself quickly and corrected.

Romney, himself, referred to the fee in his signature health care law as a tax. He told CNN in 2009 that if the state's residents decided to forgo health insurance when they could afford it, they would face the loss of a tax exemption–or in other words, they would be assessed a tax.

"There are a number of ways to encourage people to get insurance and what we did, we said 'you're going to lose a tax exemption if you don't have insurance,'" Romney told CNN in the interview.

The policy may cause some conflict on the campaign trail for Romney as critics will likely boost their criticism of the candidate as "hypocritical" in the health care debate, given that he staunchly opposes the federal law and vows to repeal it.

But for now, while Republicans steadfastly broadcast the court's ruling on the tax provision, Democrats maintain that it's still a penalty.

"Whether you call it a mandate or a tax, what it is is a penalty…that basically says if you can afford health care and you chose not to have it, that you can't go to emergency rooms and hospitals, get free care and drive everybody else's premiums up," David Axelrod, Obama's senior campaign strategist, said on MSNBC Friday.

Calling the Republicans' tax argument a "bizarre attack," Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick insisted the fee was a way to punish those who refuse to contribute to the insurance system.

"It's bringing those folks into the insurance system and penalizing those who don't come in," he said on a conference call organized by the Obama campaign.

Piling on, Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland argued that only about one to two percent of Americans would likely end up paying the fee–a provision of the health care law that does not go into effect until 2014.

O'Malley also took sharp aim at the GOP's argument, saying they refuse to move "forward" after the Supreme Court made its decision.

"They're retreating to the last bastion of scoundrels, which is to try to cast this as some sort of tax increase," O'Malley said.

- CNN National Political Correspondent Jim Acosta contributed to this report.

Filed under: 2012 • Democrats • Health care • Republicans • Supreme Court
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Four and The Door

    Since the bill was changed in the Supreme Court, why doesn't it have to be re-approved by Congress and The Administration? It never would have passed if the personal mandate was called a tax. Obama specifically declared it was not a tax when he was pushing it through. It needs to go back to congress.

    June 29, 2012 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  2. manhandler1

    A tax is something you pay as the result of income or purchasing something. A penalty is something you get for not doing something you are required to do, for example...paying a bill on time. This is a penalty.

    June 29, 2012 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  3. al in memphis

    Call it whatever you want to call it - just make it work. Especially the provisions that lead to preventive health care and make the insurance companies return billions of dollars if they don't spend a certain percentage servicing health care reciptents.

    June 29, 2012 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  4. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Taxpayers are going to have to pay for Hazmat removal of republican crap when the domestic terrorists in the GOP are swept out of office in November.

    June 29, 2012 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  5. coy4one

    The GOP and its tea baggers will now lie as much as possible to gain control again. That's why they are focusing on the senior citizens because they know that seniors tend to be more easily persuaded and the GOP can create more fear for this group using reduced benefits, Medicare, and Medicaid stuff that are flat lies!!

    June 29, 2012 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  6. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    I am sure those who show up at free health clinics in LA are going to thank Jindal for not implementing the ACA. What a worthless tool he is.

    June 29, 2012 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  7. Linda

    This will be the rope that hangs the GOP.....move on and get to the more important issues......their own canidate (Romney) used the same TAX or PENALTY on the people of his state for failing to buy Health insurance......the more he trys to blame Obama on raising Taxes the more it will come back on him.......this man is s sly dog and will say anything to get a vote, get money, even if it means he has to lie lie lie...........Even Justice Roberts said it was a Tax on the people who have the money to buy health ins. but refuse to do TAX them.....they can either pay the tax or buy insurance like the rest of us.......and stop using the ER as their free clinic......and letting us pay their bills......

    June 29, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC

    "One day after the Supreme Court announced its decision to uphold the controversial health care law passed in 2010, the GOP is pushing a message Friday that the law imposes a substantial tax hike on the American public."
    Well, good grief! It's over. Who cares that one justice declared the fine was a tax? The judge was a conservative, and the only reason he did that is so that Republicans can claim that the ACA is a spending /budgetary matter, which means that a repeal can be passed in the Senate with just 51 votes through Reconciliation, bypassing filibusters.

    If you get a speeding ticket, do you pay a fine or a tax? A fine.
    If you are caught shoplifting at the grocery store, would you pay a fine or a tax? A fine.
    If you are caught shoplifting in the Emergency Room, fine or tax? A tax. TAX?

    Justice Roberts knew what he was doing. He set the stage to make it far easier for Republicans to repeal the ACA.

    June 29, 2012 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  9. Alan Piccard

    It will not be a tax increase at all on the millions of us who already have insurance. I actually like Pelosi's comment about a "Free Loader" charge.

    What it might mean is that in the future with everyone paying their way I might not have to pony up an extra $1400+ this new fiscal year because the many who bet wrong, got sick, and couldn't pay will not get passed on to the rest of us who want insurance and got it.

    June 29, 2012 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  10. vic , nashville ,tn

    Government makes money from Tax and penalty so who cares

    June 29, 2012 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  11. JohnReedjr

    It is the height of irrationality to think that we might have a benefit like Universal Health care without a tax, whatever any one calls it. We need to realize that there are good things we can do with our tax dollars, not just fight unnecessary wars and bail out wall street. It is good to have a healthy, well-educated, economically secure populace.

    June 29, 2012 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  12. Romneycare = Tax = End of story

    GOP nightmare is that the midterm election was NOT between Obama and the father of Rmoneycare tax.

    June 29, 2012 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  13. chill

    Even if it is a tax, it's a tax only on those who don't have health insurance and won't buy it after the exchanges come on line in 2014. Maybe we should re-name it the Deadbeat Tax.

    June 29, 2012 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  14. buttermybuttandcallmeabiscuit

    Hey 'Pubs,
    That "Hope and Change" ya'll are always asking about....well, it is going just fine and dandy. Thanks for asking.

    June 29, 2012 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  15. chill

    Oh, and I see that Jindal would rather have the Feds running Louisianna's insurance exchanges than the state. I'm cool with that. Otherwise, I don't know that he ahs any role to play in running it, so I don't know how he intends to fight it. Remember all you seniors out there that Bobby wants to re-open the donut hole for you and prevent anyone with a pre-existing condition from getting insurance. Just sayin'.

    June 29, 2012 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  16. MTATL67

    Listening to Republicans like Sarah Blaming Palin throw tantrum is tanamount to listening to spoiled children who were told NO.

    June 29, 2012 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  17. Laura, Boston MA

    I live in Massachusetts and I can attest to the fact that then Govenor Romney made no bones that our Health coverage would mean paying a tax. However, since over 90% of the population was already covered from our employers, it didn't hit the way Obamacare will. It didn't change the time it took to get into visit your doctor. The program was not run by the IRS who are now going to be able to invade looking at all aspects of our lives since it is a tax. How can Obama say it isn't a tax when the IRS (tax central) is running the show?

    June 29, 2012 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  18. Indy

    Get insurance,pay your bills, no tax penalty, not that complicated. Romneycare/Obamcare Tomato/Tomato

    June 29, 2012 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  19. Joe

    The supreme court ruled it is a tax. Are they scoundrels?

    June 29, 2012 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |