When conservatives asked members of Congress to point out what provision in the US Constitution gave the legislature the power to impose individual mandates for health care coverage, Democrats scoffed, responding, "Are you serious?" 

But now that 20 states are challenging ObamaCare in court, congressional Democrats and the White House are being forced to answer the question.  Despite his "no tax" pledge, Obama is now changing his tune to defend the new law, as noted by (an apparently surprised) New York Times:
In a brief defending the law, the Justice Department says the requirement for people to carry insurance or pay the penalty is “a valid exercise” of Congress’s power to impose taxes.

Congress can use its taxing power “even for purposes that would exceed its powers under other provisions” of the Constitution, the department said. For more than a century, it added, the Supreme Court has held that Congress can tax activities that it could not reach by using its power to regulate commerce.

While Congress was working on the health care legislation, Mr. Obama refused to accept the argument that a mandate to buy insurance, enforced by financial penalties, was equivalent to a tax.

“For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase,” the president said last September, in a spirited exchange with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program “This Week.”

When Mr. Stephanopoulos said the penalty appeared to fit the dictionary definition of a tax, Mr. Obama replied, “I absolutely reject that notion.”

Ha.  The American people rejected that notion, too, Mr. President.  Still, that didn't stop the Democrats, now did it?

Interestingly enough, the Times also notes how Democrats in Congress "anticipated a constitutional challenge to the individual mandate," and accordingly, wrote "10 detailed findings" into the legislation meant to tie the mandate to interstate commerce.  "Nowhere does Congress cit its taxing power as a source of authority."

The law describes the levy on the uninsured as a “penalty” rather than a tax.

The Justice Department brushes aside the distinction, saying “the statutory label” does not matter. The constitutionality of a tax law depends on “its practical operation,” not the precise form of words used to describe it, the department says, citing a long line of Supreme Court cases.

Moreover, the department says the penalty is a tax because it will raise substantial revenue: $4 billion a year by 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

In addition, the department notes, the penalty is imposed and collected under the Internal Revenue Code, and people must report it on their tax returns “as an addition to income tax liability.”

Because the penalty is a tax, the department says, no one can challenge it in court before paying it and seeking a refund. 

How convenient

As our friend Ed Morrissey points out over at Hot Air, the Times now carries "all the news fit to print..." three months laterThe Wall Street Journal's Randy E. Barnett wrote about this scenario MONTHS ago, but apparently the story was part of this week's White House Friday night news dump, meaning the Times had finally gotten Obama's OK to run it. 

Way to be on top of things, New York Times