In today's Washington Post, columnist Ruth Marcus takes on the weary task of refuting "a GOP blizzard of untrue statements" about the Democratic health care reform effort. Some do appear to be the kind of political exaggeration to the point of prevarication that passes for discourse in DC nowadays. However, one alleged untruth that caught my eye was the following:
Kentucky Republican Brett Guthrie: "The bill raises taxes for just about everyone."
Not true. The bill imposes a surtax on the top 0.3 percent of households, individuals making more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million.
Yes, strictly speaking the Democratic bill does call only that a tax. Other assessments that apply to nearly all Americans go by other names, e.g., "contributions" and "fines." But as my Reason colleague Jacob Sullum recently explained, a tax by any other name still smells as stenchy:
…the bills would establish a "tax on individuals without acceptable health care coverage" and an "individual responsibility excise tax," respectively. "If you put something in the Internal Revenue Code and you tell the IRS to collect it," a tax expert told the Associated Press in September, "I think that's a tax."
The president disagrees. "For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase," he insisted during a squirm-inducing September 20 exchange with ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "You can't just make up that language and decide that that's called a tax increase." Stephanopoulos responded by literally getting out the dictionary to demonstrate that "a charge…imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes" is commonly considered a tax.
If Obama can deny that a charge is a tax even when it's collected by the IRS and identified as a "tax" in the legislation creating it, he surely sees nothing tax-like in the money people are required to spend if they want to avoid that charge. Yet forcing people to buy insurance they do not want so their premiums can subsidize other people's health care looks a lot like a tax-funded welfare program, even if the money does not flow through the public treasury….
"What we are saying," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) explained last week, "is everybody will contribute…to making sure that health care options are available to all of our citizens." So we're talking about a legally required contribution that will be used to provide a government-arranged benefit. If only there were a shorter way of expressing that concept.
I do wish that Marcus would get on to investigating the whopper that the Congressional health reform bills will "assure high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans."
The whole excellent Sullum column on "Obama's Hidden Fees" can be found here.