Yesterday I took some friendly fire from readers for my dubious response to President Obama’s claims to George Stephanopoulos that charging people money if they don’t have health insurance was not a tax increase. George broke out the dictionary definition of “tax,” which the President blew off. In other areas, people like Steve Benen crowed about how Obama had “schooled” George on what “tax” means. Rather than looking at Merriam-Webster, Stephanopoulos should have just broken out a copy of the legislation in question.
Let’s all open up our copy of the Baucus plan and turn to page 29. We find ourselves in SUBTITLE D: SHARED RESPONSIBILITY. And what does the bill tell us will happen if you fail to purchase health insurance?
Excise Tax. The consequence for not maintaining insurance would be an excise tax. If a taxpayer’s MAGI is between 100-300 percent of FPL, the excise tax for failing to obtain coverage for an individual in a taxpayer unit (either as a taxpayer or an individual claimed as a dependent) is $750 per year. However, the minimum penalty for the taxpayer unit is $1,500. If a taxpayer’s MAGI is above 300 percent of FPL the penalty for failing to obtain coverage for an individual in a taxpayer unit (either as a taxpayer or as an individual claimed as a dependent) is $950 year. However, the maximum penalty amount a family above 300 percent of FPL would pay is $3,800.
So, Mr. President… would you care to explain to us one more time how this isn’t a tax?
Follow more of this argument at Memeorandum.
UPDATES: Spelling of “Merriam-Webster” corrected. Thank you for pointing that out. Of course, since the original spelling was incorrect, the entire premise of the article must be faulty. (/sarc)
Second, one of our frequent commenters is continuing to describe this as “gotcha journalism.” How utterly convenient of Obama’s supporters. Allow me to clue you in on something… When an elected official refers to the capital of Oregon as Portland instead of Salem in a momentary lapse of high school lessons and people jump all over him saying he doesn’t even know anything about his country, that’s “gotcha journalism.”
This is a President who has consistently gone out of his way to assure everyone that he wasn’t going to be funding his various initiatives by taxing the middle class getting into an argument with a journalist who called him out and claiming this wasn’t a tax increase when he knew full well that it was. This is, to invoke a recent town hall instance, a case of “peeing on our legs and telling us it’s raining.”
And let us also be very clear on the fact that this is not a “fine” we’re talking about. The word “fine” has a very specific meaning in this context, and it is a penalty imposed by the court system on persons who have broken the law. If you are caught driving without liability insurance (again… note liability against damage to others) you can be taken into court for breaking the law and given a fine. If the President wishes to extend this discussion to make it illegal to be breathing while not having health insurance and taking citizens to court to fine them for it, we’ll be happy to have that discussion as well. But this is not a fine. It’s a tax which would frequently be imposed on a specific sub-set of citizens who, for whatever reason, feel that they can’t afford to purchase health insurance. And the President getting into an argument claiming that it’s not is simply dishonest.