Okay, So It IS a Tax. Whatever.
Long ago, in a more innocent time — that is, in December of last year — I wrote a little post arguing that one of the more significant components of the then-debated health care bill really was a tax. The administration denied it, but last week reluctantly came around and admitted the obvious. Forcing people to part with their money is taxation. Who knew?
The original, from my defunct blog, seems worth reposting, with some commentary:
When I was a kid, and I’ve got to cop to this, I was one scrawny little dude. And I remember once an older, much larger kid grabbing my arm, and hitting me in the face with it.
“Why are you hitting yourself?” he asked. Of course, I protested that he was hitting me, but I’m guessing that that argument wouldn’t get much traction from policy makers today.
The Reid bill also includes private-sector mandates, in that it would require individuals and employers to purchase health insurance, whether they want it or not. In the projections that CBO has so far produced, however, you will find no estimate of the costs that those mandates — which are really hidden taxes — would impose on the citizenry.
Federal law requires only that the CBO say whether the private-sector mandates’ cost would exceed a specified threshold, now set at $139 million. The agency has affirmed that the Reid bill’s mandates would “greatly exceed” that threshold.
That is quite an understatement — the mandates could exceed that threshold by a factor of 10,000.
The Clinton administration’s health plan contained similar mandates. Not only did the CBO estimate their cost, the agency even treated the mandatory premiums as federal revenues and included them in the federal budget, just like other taxes. Those taxes accounted for 60 percent of the total cost of the Clinton plan.
In 2006, Massachusetts enacted legislation substantially similar to the Obama health plan. Estimates from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation indicate that those hidden taxes likewise account for 60 percent of the total cost of the Massachusetts law.
This time around, however, congressional Democrats appear to have crafted their private-sector mandates so as to avoid the CBO’s criteria for inclusion in the federal budget. That is their right. But the result is perverse. If a bill would require taxpayers to send $1 trillion to the IRS, the CBO must include that in its cost estimate. But if a bill would also require Americans to send $1.5 trillion to private insurance companies, the CBO neither reports nor even tallies that tax. Without a cost estimate of those hidden taxes, the Senate may approve a $2.5 trillion bill while telling the voters that it costs $1 trillion.
For those of you who haven’t been following the health care debate too closely, “individual mandate” is the pleasant-sounding term — there are always pleasant-sounding terms — for “compulsory health insurance that you will be forced to purchase, or that will be given to you if you can’t afford it, and if you can afford it, but don’t buy it, then they’ll fine you, and if you evade the fine they’ll put you in prison.”
So I’m serious about this question: How is an individual mandate in health care — that is, an individual, non-negotiable requirement to purchase a good or service — not a tax? How is it not precisely analogous to the bully who grabbed my arm, way back when, and who said, absurdly, that I was hitting myself? Isn’t the money, or the arm, subject to pretty much the same sort of compulsion in each case?
Consider this, before you answer. If the health care mandate is a tax, then it’ll be one of the heaviest taxes around, and a fairly regressive one, too, falling disproportionately on the lower-middle class. And if it isn’t a tax, then explain why we couldn’t be forced — I mean mandated — to buy tanks for the Pentagon, and quarter soldiers in our houses….
I mean, it’s not really quartering soldiers in our houses. It’s an individual defense mandate. Which is really only a tax. And we all know that Congress has the power to tax.