Rep. Scott Garrett (R., N.J.) had a nice gambit just now in a hearing with President Obama’s acting OMB director Jeffrey Zients.
First he asked Zients if the Obama budget imposes any new taxes on Americans making less than $200,000. When Zients answered that it did not, Garrett followed up by asking if an individual making less than $200,000 a year opted not to carry health insurance, in contravention of the Affordable Care Act, is the fine associated with that decision a tax?
After some hemming and hawing, Zients answered that the fine did not constitute an tax. Which is a problem, considering the Obama administration’s entire case before the Supreme Court is premised on those fines being construed as taxes, not penalties.
The Obama administration has argued under oath in federal court that the fine that stems from the individual mandate is a tax. That same argument is central to the brief that the administration has filed with the Supreme Court in advance it taking up the challenges to the law. Note this story from January 2012.
The Obama administration on Friday afternoon submitted its opening brief to the Supreme Court defending the constitutionality of the law that virtually all Americans purchase health insurance starting in 2014.
The brief argues that the minimum coverage provision under the Affordable Care Act, commonly called the “individual mandate,” falls within Congress’ constitutional powers to regulate interstate commerce and to lay and collect taxes.
Has so much changed in the span of a month, that what was considered a tax then is now considered something else? Has the administration updated its brief before land’s highest court? If not, why not? If they made such a change, when and why did they make it? The administration really needs to show us their work on this. And the state attorneys general who are challenging the law should secure a recording of Zients’ testimony and play it before the justices. It’ll be must-see TV.
Update: Here’s video of the exchange. The OMB man is spectacularly unimpressive in his attempt to stick to his rehearsed talking points, displaying about half the agility of your average tree sloth.