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Romney Camp Agrees that Individual Mandate Not a Tax

I think there’s a lot of reason to be concerned about the loss of Medicaid benefits for millions of low-income Americans in conservative-leaning states. I don’t think there’s much reason to be concerned about this propaganda about the Affordable Care Act being the “largest tax increase in history.” First of all, it isn’t. The mandate penalty will affect maybe 1% of the population, and the tax itself is relatively small. What’s more, it’s easily avoided, so the actual revenue gathered will be substantially lower than the revenue owed. Even if you look at all the taxes in the ACA, it’s well short of other comparable pieces of legislation, and along the lines of George H.W. Bush’s tax increase in 1990.

More important than that, you have both Presidential candidates in agreement on the idea that the mandate enforcement is not a tax:

In a roundabout exchange on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” on Monday, Eric Fehrnstrom was asked if he agrees with Obama that the individual mandate is not a tax.

“That’s correct,” Fehrnstrom said. “But the president also needs to be held accountable for his contradictory statements. He has described it variously as a penalty and as a tax. He needs to reconcile those two very different statements.” […]

“The governor has consistently described the mandate in Massachusetts as a penalty,” Fehrnstrom said, though he criticized the president for portraying the mandate in different ways depending on the politics of the situation.

“The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court; he agreed with the dissent that was written by Justice Scalia, that very clearly said that the mandate was not a tax,” Fehrnstrom said. “The governor believes what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty and he disagrees with the court’s ruling that the mandate was a tax.”

I’m sure this won’t stop Republicans from calling the mandate a tax. But it will muddy the waters significantly. And so from now to November, it becomes another political difference of opinion which will not resonate to anyone but those predisposed to this argument. And anyway, if Republicans want to repeal the mandate, they have all the ammo they need. Calling the mandate a tax is just sort of icing on the cake.

There are plenty of things to worry about with respect to health care; this isn’t one of them.

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David Dayen

David Dayen