Rep. Waxman rejects healthcare tax debate as a 'phony issue'

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who helped write the Affordable Care Act, said it's "ridiculous" for Republicans to attack the law's individual mandate as a tax increase.

Republicans suffered a substantive defeat as the Supreme Court ruled last week that the mandate is constitutional. But the GOP has seized on the fact that the court said the mandate is a use of Congress's taxing power. The party says President Obama misled the public by arguing that the mandate is not a tax.

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"That's a phony issue," Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers."

During the legislative debate over healthcare, Obama argued strenuously that the mandate was not a tax. But in court, his administration defended the policy under Congress's power to levy taxes — a position the court accepted.

The White House has continued to insist that the mandate is not a tax, even in light of the Supreme Court's ruling.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that the healthcare law “imposes a tax citizens may lawfully choose to pay in lieu of buying health insurance.”

Republicans are focused on the word "tax." Democrats are focused on the word "choose."

The policy is not a tax increase because people have a way of avoiding it, Waxman said.

"It's a penalty, but through the tax code, because that's an efficient way of picking it up," he said. "So when Republicans say this is a tax — and I've seen charges this is the biggest tax increase in American history — that's ridiculous. This is not a real tax increase. It's a requirement that everybody get health insurance."