As dear readers may have noticed, things have gotten just a tad complex in the healthcare reform debate.
Virtually every hospital and clinician in America is rushing to meet some new mandate or collect money under some new opportunity in the thing, even though they have no idea whether it will ultimately be struck down, in whole or in part, by the U.S. Supreme Court.
One measure of the complexity of the debate shows in the mixed-up battle lines that have been drawn in courtrooms across the country.
Remember the days when Democrats said the reform law was not a tax? (Look up the Sept. 20, 2009, interview between President Barack Obama and George Stephanopoulos. Go ahead, Outliers will wait.)
Whoops! Now the Democrats claim in court filings that the reform law's individual mandate was a tax! Meanwhile, conservatives—who haven't shown themselves too shy about criticizing new taxes—have said in their court filings that the mandate was in fact not a tax.
What's going on? Is this brazen hypocrisy on both sides of the debate? Nah, just political opportunism.
Democrats are trying to get it classified as a tax because they think that would put it beyond the reach of the Supreme Court, as only voters can tell Congress to get rid of taxes, not judges. Republicans would like to see the reverse happen, even if they have to make the painful argument that the reform law does not contain a new tax. Those are not points that either side is arguing in public, but read the filings yourself. (They're between 25 and 50 pages each, so we're not waiting this time.)
More broadly, Democrats' arguments in favor of the mandate are an appeal to the kind of “personal responsibility” position more commonly heard from the right, as in: Those who fail to get personal health insurance are just ignoring their responsibility to decide how they will pay for the care they will inevitably receive some day. Meanwhile, Republicans are pinning their hopes for success on the chance to use the federal courts to overturn the actions of a popularly elected government—which smacks of the kind of “judicial activism” tactic decried by right-leaning critics in other debates.