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Contrasting Obamacare’s Individual Mandate with Ryan’s Proposed Medicare Reforms

5:22 PM, May 4, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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Klein and Lazarus also both neglect to note that President Obama was adamant, on national television, that Obamacare’s individual mandate in no way constitutes a tax. The overhaul’s text reflects that claim: Americans are not taxed for not buying government-approved insurance; they are fined. Now that, perhaps, is a mostly semantic distinction — although some people might still prefer to be taxed as law-abiding citizens rather than to be labeled as law-breakers and fined for their lawlessness — but it is nevertheless one that the president took great pains to make. He thought denying that the individual mandate was a tax would help him get Obamacare passed, knowing that describing it as a tax would have raised a loud outcry, given his repeated pledges not to raise middle class Americans’ taxes.  

Thus, Obama insisted that the individual mandate isn’t a tax and then promptly had his Justice Department argue that it is. Courts, however — as even Lazarus notes — haven’t bought the bait and switch. As such, Obamacare’s individual mandate will almost certainly continue to have to be constitutionally defended as an exercise of the power to regulate interstate commerce, rather than as an exercise of the power to tax. Never before has the federal government claimed a power to compel commerce, rather than merely to regulate it. But compelling commerce is exactly what the Obama administration is claiming that the government has the power to do under Obamacare.

The Ryan-authored House budget, which contains no such requirement that Americans buy health insurance or any other product or service, does not raise these types of thorny constitutional questions. The situation is quite different, however, for a 2,700-page piece of “legislation” (more like an entire legal code) that — if it’s not repealed — would take a huge step toward a full government takeover of our health care system.

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