Quayle wants to amend Constitution to address decision on healthcare law 'tax'

Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) has proposed fighting back against the Supreme Court's healthcare decision by amending the Constitution so that no law can be considered a tax unless Congress designates it as a tax.

Conservatives were left confused and angry by the court's decision to hold that the 2010 law's requirement to buy health insurance, backed by penalties, could be seen as consistent with the Constitution if viewed as a tax. 

That decision prompted Republicans to argue that the law itself clearly identifies the monetary fine as a penalty for failing to buy insurance, and to note that President Obama also repeatedly stressed that this penalty is not a new tax.

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"The president stated clearly, and on multiple occasions, that the individual mandate was not a tax as he sold it to Congress and the American people," Quayle said. "However, he was more than happy to see the Supreme Court uphold the law on the basis that it is, in fact, a tax.


"My amendment requires that all taxes levied by Congress be labeled honestly and openly as taxes during the legislative process," Quayle added. "The American people deserve to know the full implications and consequences of legislation passed by Congress."

Quayle's amendment, H.J.Res. 114, would hold simply that, "No provision of law shall be construed as having been made in execution of the power of Congress to lay and collect taxes unless such law has been designated by Congress as a tax."

Conservatives began picking apart the Supreme Court's decision as it relates to taxes versus penalties as soon as it was released last Thursday.

Both Thursday and Friday evening, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) took to the floor to highlight what he said were inconsistencies with Chief Justice John Roberts's decision to side with liberal judges that the individual mandate could essentially be seen as a constitutional tax on people who choose to go without healthcare.

Gohmert noted, for example, that the court had to first decide whether it could take up the case at all under the Anti-Injunction Act. That act says the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over tax cases until the tax in question has been assessed, and in this case, the penalty for not buying health insurance will not kick in until 2014.

But here, the court found that the penalty is not a tax. Roberts wrote: "The Affordable Care Act does not require that the penalty for failing to comply with the individual mandate be treated as a tax for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. The Anti-Injunction Act therefore does not apply to this suit, and we may proceed to the merits."

Gohmert said that this shows Roberts was not inclined to treat the penalty as a tax for this part of the decision. But later, after deciding that the individual mandate cannot be seen as constitutional under Commerce Clause powers, Roberts decided the penalty can be viewed as a tax, the key decision that allowed the individual mandate to stand.

Roberts wrote: "The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a 'tax.' "

Regardless of the apparent inconsistency identified by Gohmert, House Republicans have said the court's ruling means the only way to eliminate the healthcare law is to repeal it. Republicans have scheduled a July 11 vote to repeal the law, and have framed the ruling as a reason to vote against Obama this November.

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