White House stands by position that health law mandate isn't a tax

The White House is standing by its position that individual mandate in President Obama's healthcare law is a penalty despite the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it as a tax. 

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters traveling with Obama on Friday that the mandate enforces a penalty, not a tax, because people have a choice whether to obtain health insurance.

"You can call it what you will, but if affects 1 percent" of the population, Carney said, according to a White House pool report. 

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Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said in the court’s majority opinion Thursday that the healthcare law “imposes a tax citizens may lawfully choose to pay in lieu of buying health insurance.” In doing so, he embraced the government's fallback legal argument, which was that the mandate is constitutional under Congress's taxing powers. 

Republicans have seized on the ruling to argue that Obama misled the public by arguing during the healthcare debate that the mandate is not a tax. He and congressional Democrats strongly disputed the charge that the mandate would raise taxes during the bitter debate before the law was passed.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pointed to the court's ruling on the mandate to argue that the healthcare law was passed "on a deception."



The mandate requires most taxpayers to either buy insurance or make a payment to the IRS starting in 2014.

Jonathan Gruber, a healthcare economist who helped design Obama’s healthcare overhaul, made the same point as Carney on a conference call with reporters Friday.

“It’s not a tax on the middle class,” Gruber said. “It’s a choice they’re making.”