Does Washington Post Columnist Ruth Marcus Not Know What a Tax Is?

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Tax Man

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.

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  1. Geez, next thing you know you guys at “Reason” will be resorting to the dictionary definitionof ‘tax’. That’s really reaching, guys.

    1. Which definition would you prefer?

      1. Be a sport and try picking one that fits its dogma.

      2. I prefer this one.

  2. “”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.””

    From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

    Now I get it!

    1. Yep, that’s the Democrats’ notion of choice and opportunity.

      Your choice is to contribute to their plan, or you’ll get the opportunity to go to prison.

      1. “Your choice is to contribute to their plan, or you’ll get the opportunity to go to prison.”

        Your words melt like butter in my brain.

        1. Even those with a lifelong career of tax-eating will be alarmed by this. 5 years for non-compliance? I don’t care where you sit on the political spectrum, when that is pointed at YOU you are not going to like it. That ain’t the Change… blah blah.

    2. Yeah, well Steny believes the preamble to the Constitution gives unlimited power to the federal govt – general welfare, more perfect union, etc.

  3. Buck Farack

    1. Yes. Fuck me.

        1. Can I filch you again afterwards?

          Or does Chrissy still have dibs?

          1. I think that is felching. Filching is pilferage though maybe that works too.

  4. Pony!
    Pony pony pony pony pony pony!
    *stomps feet*

  5. Does Washington Post Columnist Ruth Marcus Not Know What a Tax Is?

    I suspect that depends on what the definition of “is” is.

    1. Well they’re certainly good at proclaiming what isn’t a tax.

    2. I think it also depends on what the definition of “know” is.

      1. Another declaration in the piece is the raising of the lunatic notion that the Stims, bailouts etc are actually CAUSING the stubborn cliimb in unemployment. Marcus sez no rational person believes THAT! And so just writes out the opposition. But while individual players may be ammenable to editing out of the narrative, Reality is more tenacious. She is the bitch that ultimately invites herself to every party. She is at 1600 Pa Ave right now with the lampshade on her head and cheek pouches full of Everclear. And a lighter.

  6. More like “from each according to their age and to each according to their age”.

  7. God damn Antithreadist.

  8. 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.

    I’ll ask again: does anybody seriously believe that this won’t eventually grow to swallow the entire middle class, just like the income tax did? Is anybody really that stupid and credulous? I suspect that most leftists do realize that that’s exactly what will happen, they just won’t admit it, just like they know that the public option will destroy the private insurance market, but they won’t admit that either.

    1. I think the leftists not only realise it, they hope for it.

  9. I would love to know the thought process of any halfway intelligent, moderately well informed person who supports the House Bill and its ilk. Do they really think it will work as advertised? Do they just see it as a stepping stone to UHC? What?

    1. They define “work well” as “cause consequences that will likely result in a complete government takeover of health care, leaving even more people dependent on government largesse and thus susceptible to voting for Democrats”, so yes to both questions.

    2. Uh, just to make sure you understand…there are no halfway intelligent, moderately well informed people who support the House bill. So there can be no thought process in a population of zero.

  10. …the bills would establish a “tax on individuals without acceptable health care coverage”

    Because in a socialist system, you can’t opt out…

  11. I like this definition as well. For different reasons.

  12. What we need is a universal dictionary plan, so that the govt can provide competition to drive down the high cost of definitions.

    No one should ever have to choose between putting food on the table and knowing what words should mean under this Democratic administration.

  13. I think that anyone who doesn’t see that a “health care” regime backed by prison threats that injects itself into American homes carries with it a wave of mini-Wacos must be dreaming.

    Either dreaming or cognizant and comfortable with that.

    1. I think they’re counting on it and even looking forward to it. It will reinforce their sense of superiority, based on their private story that opponents of UHC = conservatives = gun nuts = domestic terrorists who must be suppressed so that “freedom” can thrive.

  14. From the Liberal’s Dictionary TM:

    Tax: Whatever Obama decides is a tax, because to call it a tax is politically expedient. (See: prevaricate)

  15. They know it’s a tax.
    They know it won’t make health care better and cheaper.
    They don’t care due to the belief that it’s okay to lie to expand their power.

  16. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ? That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, ? That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
    –The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

    despotism – A condition in which the state has asserted its control over citizens, civil society and political life.

    So what are you going to do about it? Think altering it is still possible? Or is it time to abolish it altogether and institute new Government?

  17. Some of you people seem to think “tax” is a pejorative term. This is the source of your confusion.

  18. The jail one was worse:

    Michigan Republican Dave Camp: “Americans could face five years in jail if they don’t comply with the bill’s demands to buy approved health insurance.”

    Not true. The bill requires people to obtain insurance or, with some hardship exceptions, pay a fine. No one is being jailed for being uninsured. People who intentionally evade paying the fine could, in theory, be prosecuted — just like others who cheat on their taxes.

    Apart from the fact that she seems to be conceding at the end that these are taxes, what exactly does she think is the typical end result of a prosecution?

  19. The government forces young, healthy citizens to buy a fully baked policy covering a host of conditions mandated by experts in Washington. It doesn’t permit high deductible policies and other innovations much better suited to the needs of the younger generation. It limits the ratio of the highest to lowest premium according to *age* to be no more than 2:1 !!! This is a tremendous tax on the young, and transfer to the uninsured and the elderly. And yet, it will likely do nothing to restrain thirsty liberals in Washington from moving onto the next social program and furthering the financial decline of the country, until seniors face massive cutbacks in care.

    1. What may be an even bigger driver of HC inflation is the raft of mandates slowly accruing over the years at the state level. These go by the generic term “parity”, that is, in NY for example and many other states, a policy must cover addiction/mental health services to the same levels as, say, leukemia or head trauma. Now, many folks benefit from this sort of thing and there are certainly mental illnesses that are well treated by drugs and therapy however what there is even more of is the sort of private sanitorium/prison that adolescents and others are consigned to for “treatment” when arrested with a joint or a bump or determined to be “troubled” by their parents. These places do however have an astonishingly high cure rate. Somehow they always manage to cure you just as your insurance is depleted to zero.

  20. Obama apparatchiks appear to never have to go to jail for tax crimes, so maybe that’s what they mean.

  21. Question: If you’re a leftist in favor of mandatory purchase of health insurance and jail sentences for conscientious objectors to such mandates, how could you argue against reinstitution of the military draft or involuntary civilian service?

    Answer: You couldn’t…without looking like a damn fool and hypocrite.

    1. Actually I have seen the inverse of this argument and it reinforces my long held position that the draft is Unconstitutional. That is probably not controversial around here but it seems alarming to nearly everyone else.

  22. “”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.””

    *…and if people DON’T “contribute”, they’ll be hauled off to prison.

  23. But…but!!!! Liberals have been telling us for years that “health care is a right”. Yet if I choose not to exercise that “right” by failing to sign up and pay for a government-mandated health insurance plan, under ObamaCare the government will enforce my “right”…by fining me and/or throwing me in jail!!

    Somehow I don’t think the Framers of our Constitution would accept such idiocy. And neither should we.

  24. He’s not raising taxes, he’s reducing the burden of wealth. Do you really want to be rich? You’ve seen what happens to them.

  25. It is not “health care reform”.
    It is “health insurance reform”

    Health care here is among the best in the world. Teddy K. didn’t go to France or England for treatment.

  26. Not health care reform, but rather health care destruction, aka man-made disaster.

    Have you called your representative and senators today? Do it again. It’s therapeutic.

    Plus, it lets them know people are still awake out here — and that they are countng the days until election time in 2010. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 . . . . They’re out!!!

  27. When your job is to carry water for the administration all criticism is “untrue”.

  28. Obama will eliminate ALL taxes on EVERYONE! That’s right, no one will pay ANY “taxes” again, thanks to the God-like power of the One. Fees, however, for using government services, will go through the roof. Oh, and since the rich are evil and need to be punished by the righteous One, there will be a 125% tax fee on income of anyone making over $250,000, err.. $150,000, what the hell, make it $25,000 per year. All problems are solved, comrade!

    If that doesn’t fly, the alternate plan is to give every single unemployed person a government job with a minimum wage of $100/hour. 0% unemployment, and excellent, high-wage jobs for everyone!

    The evil, so-called “free marketers” should cower in tearful shame at standing in the way of the glorious People’s Obesiance to Obama’s Republic. That’s right, everyone will be POOR, and they will love it or go to the special archipelago of reeducation camps set up by Obama, staffed by happy, fully employed workers making $100/hour.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  29. ….”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,”.
    Ok, I’ll give you that one Mr President (but, I don’t really believe it). But here is what you don’t say: you promise me that my present insurance plan will not cost more. What you don’t say is “you will not only be purchasing your plan each month but also an additional policy (or more) someone who can’t or won’t pay for it himself.
    THAT IS A TAX!

  30. i think the argument is that it is not a tax because the government is not getting the money, instead they are forcing you to pay a third party a certain amount

    it is a pretty good innovation

    they should continue with this process and assign a welfare recipient to you, and you then pay their rent, food, cigarette money directly

    that way you’ll be supporting them, and the government won’t: it will be the fabled middle class tax cut

    hope and change!

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