| WASHINGTON, March 14
WASHINGTON, March 14 To be or not to be a
That is the question in this month's U.S. Supreme Court case
testing the validity of President Barack Obama's controversial
healthcare system overhaul.
At issue is the money that Americans will have to pay
starting in 2014 to the Internal Revenue Service if they fail to
obtain medical insurance.
During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama promised not to
raise taxes on families earning less than $250,000. That's the
same income bracket where a lot of people lack health insurance.
So, as president, Obama and his aides studiously avoided
using the "t-word" as they worked to persuade Congress to pass
the healthcare overhaul. Instead, they called it a "penalty."
Now enacted, the law itself refers to a "penalty" that must
be paid if a taxpayer fails to get medical coverage.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said
at a recent congressional hearing that the payment "operates the
same way a tax would operate, but it is not per se a tax."
Just last month, acting White House budget director Jeffrey
Zients said in a hearing that it was not a tax.
Now, however, the White House needs to defend the healthcare
law in court and things are different.
The Supreme Court starting on March 26 will begin hearing a
case on whether Obama's healthcare overhaul is constitutional.
The administration is arguing the government can make people
buy health insurance and charge them if they don't through its
powers to regulate interstate commerce and to tax.
That argument raised some eyebrows and provided a "gotcha"
moment for Republican lawmakers when administration lawyers
argued in briefs filed before the Supreme Court that the minimum
coverage requirement provision operated like a tax.
"The only consequences of failure to maintain minimum
coverage are tax consequences," the administration lawyers
argued in the briefs.
(Reporting By Donna Smith; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Eric