The Sensible Parts of the Obamacare Decision
Take the Hitchhiker's Guide advice: Don't Panic.
June 28, 2012 - 9:21 am
Okay, here’s some advice. Go ahead and scream, but try to keep your throat relaxed and open. Otherwise you’ll hurt your vocal cords.
Now, let’s calm down and look at what the SCOTUS really decided.
First, it decided that the individual mandate could be justified, but only as a tax. Well, we knew that. From the first, the Republicans were saying “this is a tax and a big tax, and a big tax that affects the poor and middle class disproportionately.” We also knew that the Federal Government could tax us to pay for health care. The only limits on the government’s power to tax us pretty much ended with the 13th Amendment in 1913. The notion that it wasn’t a tax was a fig leaf the Democrats came up with to keep from admitting Obama was setting up a big tax.
So what the decision has done is say “if it walks like a tax and talks like a tax, it’s a tax.” Of course, that does mean it’s incumbent on us to brag on how the SCOTUS agreed with the Republicans on that point, and to hammer home the point that Obama broke his tax promise.
By the way, the fact that it wasn’t advertised as a tax meant the Anti-Injunction Act didn’t apply. In other words, the Democrats were too clever by half — if they’d have called it a tax, the Court couldn’t have considered it at all. By not calling it a tax, they ensured the decision would come before the election.
Second, the decision says that the governments power under the Commerce Clause is limited. It may seem like a Pyrrhic victory right now, but this is still a good thing. Again, we already knew the Federal Government could tax us for pretty much any reason it pleased, and they already impose taxes for not choosing to buy certain things. (Consider, eg: if you have a million dollars in a savings account, the income is taxable. If you have it in a stock that pays dividends, the income is currently taxed at a lower rate. And if you have it in municipal bonds, it’s not taxable.) So this establishes a good thing, and only affirms something else that was already true. No loss there.
Third, it says that the Federal Government can’t force states to pay for Federally-mandated programs, at least under some conditions. It will be interesting to see if that is called on in the future.
So, as I say, calm down. This isn’t the end of the world, and actually establishes a couple of good precedents.