Danny Westneat and the Big Lie

July 5, 2012

Seattle Times liberal columnist Danny Westneat is upset that Washington Policy Center agrees with national experts that the Obamacare law’s mandate tax is one of the largest tax increases in U.S. history.

And because Dr. Stark of our staff and commentators nationwide have called it that, Westneat hints darkly at hidden conspiratorial forces. "It sure feels like someone, somewhere, decided this is going to be the mantra of the coming campaigns," he says.

Rather than a conspiracy, it is far more likely that people across the country looked at the mandate the Supreme Court identified as a tax and reached the same conclusion: Since it’s a tax, it’s one of the largest in U.S. history.

Westneat disagrees. He measures the tax (as you would expect) based on what the government stands to gain. Estimates show the mandate tax will raise about $4 billion by 2019, less than two-tenths of one percent of federal revenues, and only about one percent of Americans will pay it in any given year. He accuses those who don’t see it this way as participating in "a Big Lie" and engaging in deliberate "choreographed misstatements."

He cites the figures accurately, but there is another way to look at it, from the point of view of the people. As the Supreme Court ruled, the Obamacare mandate tax applies to every adult resident of the United States, more than 250 million people. This is on top of at least eight other new taxes imposed by the President’s health care law.*

To illustrate: Let’s say your congressman votes to impose an inheritance tax on all estates worth more than one dollar. The congressman should be held accountable for enacting a massive tax increase, even though most people don’t inherit money in any given year. Further, some analysts see the health premiums paid to insurance companies as part of the mandate tax, because now such payments are required by federal law and enforced by the IRS.

National health policy expert Merrill Matthews writes:

"If both the [insurance] premium and the penalty are considered a tax, the mandate becomes the largest tax increase in U.S. history. And that doesn’t include all the other taxes imposed by the legislation.

"The median U.S. family income is about $50,000. Family health coverage can easily run $20,000 a year – and rising quickly. In that scenario, the coverage mandate is essentially a 40 percent tax on that family, which is now required by law to ensure that every family member has qualifying coverage."

I don’t necessarily agree with Matthews that the insurance premiums families must pay under Obamacare count as a tax, but I don’t think he’s a liar either. And at least he views the mandate tax from the right perspective – from the taxpayer’s point of view.

At Washington Policy Center we respectfully debate ideas with people all the time, without resorting to name calling.

With the Supreme Court’s ruling, however, there is one area of agreement. Supporters and opponents of Obamacare agree the health care law represents a huge tax increase (whether or not it is one of the largest in U.S. history), and that the mandate tax is targeted at the uninsured. Even liberal commentator and ardent Obamacare defender Ezra Klein, writing in The Washington Post confesses himself “surprised” at the scope of the Affordable Care Act’s taxes: "I didn’t realize they were almost equal in size to President Clinton[’s] 1993 tax increase."

This health care policy comes from a president who said, "If you make less than $250,000 you will not see your taxes increase one single dime." The Congressional Budget Office reports 75% of the mandate tax will fall on families earning less than $250,000.

You don’t have to be engaged in a conspiratorial Big Lie to see this as one of the biggest tax increases in U.S. history, even if reasonable people may disagree on this point.

* In addition to the mandate tax on the uninsured, the Affordable Care Act imposes new taxes on insurance premiums, insurance companies, drug companies, medical device manufacturers, cigarettes, tanning salons, payroll (for Medicare) and annual unearned income.