High court gives GOP new weapon on taxes

Republicans have seized on the Supreme Court's decision that the health insurance mandate is a tax, believing it will help them argue a second term for President Obama would be devastating for the economy.

Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney employed the line of attack shortly after the ruling came down, asserting that “ObamaCare raises taxes on the American people by approximately $500 billion.” 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads What the gun safety debate says about Washington Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China MORE (R-Fla.), a top contender to be Romney’s running mate, drove home the point, arguing Obama has been freed to unleash an army of tax collectors on the public.

“If you do not buy health insurance, the IRS is going to be on your back and chasing you,” Rubio said.

The tactic of hitting Obama as a tax-raising liberal was used in the wake of an otherwise stinging defeat for conservatives at the hands of Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s liberal wing.

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In a 5-4 decision, Roberts ruled the mandate is a permissible use of Congress’s powers of taxation, upholding a law that conservatives fought as a breathtaking expansion of the federal government. 

But the ruling on the mandate also provided support for Republicans, who had long argued that the mandate was a tax increase in disguise.

Asserting that the mandate amounts to a tax hike is “the most effective argument Republicans now have,” according to GOP strategist Ron Bonjean.

“[Obama] said, ‘This is not a tax increase’ and now, lo and behold, it is a tax increase. It is forcing you to buy insurance; otherwise your taxes will be raised.”

Bonjean said the taxation argument could help Romney “win over independent voters in battleground states.” 

Obama pushed back strongly against claims that the mandate constituted a tax back in 2009, when the passage of healthcare reform was fraught with political landmines for his party. 

“For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase,” Obama said then.

Now the Supreme Court has validated his signature domestic achievement on the grounds that its core provision is, in fact, a tax. 

Republicans said the court’s ruling shows the healthcare law was rammed through Congress under false pretenses.

“Ironically, the Supreme Court has decided to be far more honest about ObamaCare than Obama was,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). “They rightly have called it a tax.”

Supporters of the health law strongly dispute that it imposes a new tax burden on individuals. They say the $500 billion figure cited by Romney and others is composed almost entirely of other measures that are separate from the penalty that will be levied against most people who don’t buy insurance.

Democrats also note that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that the law will reduce the federal deficit by more than $100 billion over the next decade.

Bob Shrum, who has worked at a high level of several Democratic presidential campaigns, dismissed the GOP tax argument as “silly.” 

“That’s the same thing they always say. It’s a tax increase only for those people who choose not to have health insurance. If you can’t afford health insurance, you will be subsidized.”

Obama himself made a similar argument Thursday when he addressed the Supreme Court decision from the East Room of the White House. He included a jab at Romney, who signed a state-level law with numerous similarities to the healthcare law while serving as governor of Massachusetts. 

Obama said that the mandate in question “has enjoyed support from members of both parties, including the current Republican nominee for president.”

In a background briefing with a small group of reporters on Thursday, senior administration officials argued that the penalty was not a tax as the term is commonly understood, in part because they project that it will be levied on only about 1 percent of the population. 

One official also insisted that the system of tax credits built into the law would provide a tax break for most people.

But Republican strategist Ed Rollins maintained that Republicans needed to make the debate over the law “a tax issue rather than a healthcare issue” if they are going to use it to their advantage this fall.

“It is a more sophisticated argument to make, but ultimately it will have some effect.”

Rollins said Democrats would face steep hurdles trying to push back against the “new tax” argument.

“My sense is that when you raise the word ‘tax’ anywhere, it has an impact,” Rollins said.

Democratic pollster Mark Mellman disagreed. He said the Republican position was “a ridiculous argument, and they know it. The only people who will pay [the penalty] are those who refuse to buy health insurance even at a subsidized rate. 

“It is surprising to find Republicans standing up for personal irresponsibility,” added Mellman, a columnist for The Hill.