Photographs by J. Scott Applewhite / The Associated Press
House Ways and Means Committees Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., leads a hearing on the implications of the Supreme Court's ruling that the individual mandate in the "Affordable Care Act" is constitutional, particularly as it relates to Congress' authority to lay and collect new taxes, Tuesday, July 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 10, 2012. at right is the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
WASHINGTON House Republicans, stung by the Supreme Court decision upholding President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, are seizing on one wrinkle to bolster their election-year case for repeal — the court's judgment that the penalty for failing to get insurance is a tax.
The House has voted more than 30 times to scrap, defund or undercut the law since Obama signed it in March 2010, political moves that went nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Republican opponents cast the law as government overreach, socialized medicine and an unaffordable approach to the nation's system of health care.
Two weeks after the conservative-led court's ruling, the House GOP leadership pushed for another symbolic repeal vote on Wednesday with a fresh argument. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that the law was constitutional because it imposes a tax — not a penalty — on people who refuse to buy insurance. Republicans who repeatedly pressed for repeal said a "yes" vote would not only overturn the law but spare some 20 million Americans from an unnecessary tax.
The law's onerous burdens and taxes, Republicans complained, were stifling small businesses now reluctant to hire because of the additional expenses. This represented a clear obstacle to the country's economic recovery.
They also pointed out that Obama had promised not to raise taxes on the middle class, and the fee for failing to get insurance would do just that.
"As the Supreme Court ruled, the cornerstone of the Democrats' health care law, the individual mandate, is a massive tax," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., during the daylong debate Tuesday. "This is a major tax with major implications. Democrats have argued that the individual mandate was necessary to improve the nation's health. So what's next? Will they require you to purchase low-fat or low-salt foods or pay a tax because they think it's good for you?"
Democrats countered that the penalty for not buying insurance was directed at people who could afford it.
"Otherwise you're passing the cost on to us," said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. "You're a freeloader. The Republicans are glorifying freeloaders."
Under the law, Americans who don't get qualified health insurance will be required to pay the penalty — or tax — starting for the 2014 tax year, unless they are exempt because of low income, religious beliefs or because they are members of American Indian tribes. The penalty will be fully phased in by 2016, when it will be $695 for each uninsured adult or 2.5 percent of family income, whichever is greater, up to $12,500.