As we've noted elsewhere on Ricochet today, the Romney campaign has now reversed itself, announcing that Mitt will call ObamaCare a tax after all, but this piece by Steve Hayes, written on July 3, remains fascinating. From the website of the Weekly Standard:
The politics [of the Supreme Court's decision calling the individual mandate a tax, not a penalty] could have hardly been better: The Obama administration and other Democrats would not only have to defend an unpopular law, but they’d have to try explain that a mandate upheld because of the power of Congress to tax was not, in fact, a tax. Democrats tried unsuccessfully to make that case this weekend with White House chief of staff Jack Lew and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, among others, struggling to deflect the obvious implications of the Court’s decisions.
Those struggles may have ended yesterday morning when the Romney campaign announced that their candidate does not consider the mandate a tax. Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom appeared on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd, where he agreed with the host’s assertion that Romney “believes that you should not call the penalty a tax.”
That’s an odd argument. It’s not only possible but also perfectly consistent to agree with the argument in Scalia’s dissent that the mandate should not have been considered a tax for the purposes of constitutionality, but to bow to the reality that the Roberts decision makes it so. Whatever the mandate was before the decision, and regardless of how strongly one disagrees with the ruling, it’s a tax now.
Why did Romney do it? Presumably because calling the Obamacare tax a tax would, by implication, mean that Romney’s mandate in Massachusetts could be similarly labeled. Romney has often boasted that he made his reforms “without raising taxes.” There are arguments he can make—federal taxing power versus police powers of states, for example—but Team Romney wants to avoid the issue altogether, preferring to give up an argument in 2012 to win one from 2005.