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Jared Bernstein: The GOP tax attack doesn't pass the laugh test

COMMENTARYAs expected, conservatives aren’t too pleased about the outcome of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act (lots of angry


Jared Bernstein

by Jared Bernstein

As expected, conservatives aren’t too pleased about the outcome of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act (lots of angry #fullrepeal tweets!), and their current attack strategy is to moan about what they’re calling a new tax stemming from the decision.

The court ruled that that a penalty for refusing to purchase health insurance is permissible as a tax, thus essentially approving the individual mandate by another name. Predictably, then very use of the word “tax” caused some, shall we say, unkind feelings toward the trajectory of Obamacare:

Grover Norquist: “Now that we recognize that the mandate is only constitutional because it is a tax, it’s now clear that ‘Obamacare’ is all about taxes and it hits everybody, not just rich people.”

Sarah Palin: “Obama lied to the American people. Again,” tweeted Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor. “He said it wasn’t a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.” (Been going to poetry class?)

Mitt Romney: “Obamacare raises taxes on the American people…” Quick Q and A on this one: Q: Doesn’t Massachusetts’s RomneyCare also have a mandate penalty? Answer: Yes. In fact, Romney has in the past even referred to this as a tax. Enough said there.

Uh, is this for real? Let’s pump the brakes for a second.

First, this is a matter of personal responsibility. If someone doesn’t have insurance and gets treated for an illness, that’s uncompensated care, which I will pay for. This tax will get imposed on me and the other 84% of insured Americans. Aren’t conservatives supposed to be all about personal responsibility?

Second, according to these analyses, between 1- 2% of the population will face this penalty.  Democrats from the House Ways and Means Committee explain why:

The vast majority of Americans will never have to pay a penalty. The law anticipates that most people will have access to affordable health care through an employer, the Exchange or a public program and will take advantage of the opportunity to obtain or maintain such coverage.  In addition, there are three key exceptions to the penalty:Those who are uninsured because their coverage is unaffordable Those who are uninsured and do not file taxes because their incomes are too lowThose who would encounter “hardship” by paying the penalty

Third, the people in the taxes-are-forever-and-always-unequivocally-bad camp are conveniently forgetting that the tax benefits coming from the ACA, such as the credits it will provide to help people buy insurance. And, according to the non-partisan CBO, the benefits in the health reform law will outpace the penalties by more than a factor of 10 ($686 billion versus $55 billion)!

So here’s my question for all of these ACA opponents: At what point do you recognize that the ACA is a legitimate health care reform program passed by a democratically elected government and supported by the highest court in the land, and stop trying to block it?

OK—that’s a rhetorical question.  But it’s a good one

Jared Bernstein served from 2009 to 2011 as chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, and as a member of President Obama's economic team. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and an msnbc contributor.