Fine or Tax?

Wait a minute. I’m confused. When the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was challenged in the Supreme Court, the challenge was based on the assertion that it unconstitutionally required citizens to buy a product (healthcare insurance) that they might not wish to buy. If they chose not to buy, they would be coerced into buying the product by the threat of a fine. Chief Justice John Roberts allowed that the law was within constitutional bounds because the “fines” were really “taxes” and the federal government has the power to levy taxes. Case closed.

Yesterday on TV I heard two spokespeople from opposite sides of the Healthcare controversy use terminology that underlined the original complaint. Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, referred to the money to be collected by the IRS from those who don’t buy insurance as a “tax.” It sounded to me like a dutiful adherence to the Supreme Court’s definition. The IRS would be collecting taxes, nothing new here.

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, on the other hand, claimed that citizens were not forced to buy healthcare insurance because they had other options. They could choose instead to have money withdrawn from their accounts by the IRS. When describing the withdrawals, she called them “fines.”

Well now, which is it? It seems to me untenable to use the terms “tax” and “fine” interchangeably. Furthermore, shouldn’t the Republican (Cantor) be expected to use the word “fines?” And shouldn’t we expect the Democrat (Sebelius) to bolster the Supreme Court decision by using the word “tax?”

If they can’t get it straight, shouldn’t we take more time to sort it out. I believe a year’s delay in implementation of the law would allow all those affected to know everything that’s in it. We should delay it so we can find out what’s in it “away from the fog of controversy” to borrow a phrase from Nancy Pelosi.

Of course, no matter what we call it, it’s money forcibly taken out of the pockets of people who, for their own reasons, don’t want to buy healthcare insurance. It’s coercive. If you entered a market, looked over their wares, and decided they didn’t carry anything that you wanted, would you expect to have to pay a fee on your way out the door? That’s Obamacare.

Coercion breeds resentment.
Resentment breeds resistance.
Resistance breeds rebellion.
If you would avoid rebellion,
Avoid coercion.

Dwight Boud ©2013

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