Original version of health care law referred to mandate as a tax

| July 20 2012
Hannah Thoreson

The individual mandate is, and always has been, a tax.  The guts of the health care law that eventually passed were originally proposed in something called the Affordable Health Care for America Act, which was the House version of the Senate’s Affordable Care Act.  The difference is that the House version was the rough cut of the bill with blunt language, whereas the Senate version was polished and written in an extremely strategic way.

Both versions of the Act include a “Shared Responsibility” provision where the very next subheading is Individual Responsibility.  The House bill is extremely explicit in its intentions:  “PART 1—SHARED RESPONSIBILITY.  SUBPART A—INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY.  Sec. 501. Tax on individuals without acceptable health care coverage.”  Boom.  There it is!  It amends the Internal Revenue Code 13 of 1986 to accommodate for the change.

The Senate version passed because it was slightly more subtle, although not subtle enough to escape the notice of Chief Justice John Roberts.  “Subtitle F—Shared Responsibility for Health Care. PART I—INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY. SEC. 1501. REQUIREMENT TO MAINTAIN MINIMUM ESSENTIAL COVERAGE.  … Subtitle D of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended by adding at the end the following new chapter:  CHAPTER 48—MAINTENANCE OF MINIMUM ESSENTIAL COVERAGE.”

This final version of the law, despite also updating the tax code, refers to the changes by a handful of laughable euphemisms.  Perhaps the most hilarious of these is referring to the tax as a ‘shared responsibility payment’.  Of course, this collectivistic turn of phrase isn’t all that politically palatable either, so it most frequently refers to the ‘penalty’ that the Supreme Court eventually found permissible.

The point is that these two heaps of verbiage were once considered working versions of equivalent bills in Congress, and one of them very blatantly refers to the individual mandate’s penalty as a tax.  This is something that President Obama and his allies who helped to shepherd the bill through Congress have denied over and over again.  But it seems clear based on the evasive language used in the final version of the law that its writers were aware of what they were doing and simply wanted to avoid explicitly referring to a tax for political reasons.