The president and Congress lied, but the justices aren’t the truth police. In holding that the individual mandate is a tax, the court directly contradicted President Obama and Democrats in Congress, who’d argued vociferously that it wasn’t. The president, recall, told ABC’s George Stephanopolis it “is absolutely not a tax increase.” But this ruling says that it is indeed a tax — in fact, a huge tax hike on the middle class.
The court, or at least Chief Justice John Roberts, took the somewhat cynical (or maybe reasonable) view that what politicians say is pretty much meaningless.
Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.More by Michael D. Tanner
Yet how will average Americans react? The partisans are obvious: Those who love ObamaCare will be fine with another tax to help implement it; those who oppose it will find the tax one more reason to hate it.
But how angry will this example of political dishonesty make those in the middle?
The broccoli police aren’t coming — yet. Opponents of big government can take a small comfort from the fact that the court rejected the idea that the mandate was permissible under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. It agreed with ObamaCare opponents that choosing not to buy a product is not an action that “substantially affects interstate commerce.”
This avoids a precedent that could’ve justified a wide range of government intervention in our lives. (The common shorthand for this was “a mandate that every American eat broccoli.”) The court thus seemed to acknowledge that there are some limits to federal power.
Michael D. Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, heading research into a variety of domestic policies with particular emphasis on health care reform, welfare policy, and Social Security. His most recent white paper, "Bad Medicine: A Guide to the Real Costs and Consequences of the New Health Care Law," provides a detailed examination of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and what it means to taxpayers, workers, physicians, and patients.