When it is created by Mitt Romney of course. On Monday, Romney spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom said that Romney did not agree with the Supreme Court ruling that the individual mandate was constitutional because of the government’s right to create taxes. “The governor believes that what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty, and he disagrees with the court’s ruling that the mandate was a tax.” Pretty clear, no?
Romney only took two days to do a complete flip-flop, declaring Wednesday that the individual mandate is a tax. The “majority of the court said it’s a tax, and therefore it is a tax. They have spoken. There’s no way around that. You can try and say you wished they had decided a different way, but they didn’t. They concluded it was a tax. That’s what it is.” Also clear, but completely contradicting what his spokesperson said Romney believed just two days ago.
So, if the individual mandate is a tax, does that mean that Romney raised taxes in Massachusetts when he imposed an individual mandate? Is he one of those “tax and spend” socialists that conservatives love to hate?
But both of Romney’s contradictory opinions are completely missing the point. It simply doesn’t matter if the individual mandate is a tax or not. Calling it a tax is just a stupid label. The simple truth is that — barring a single payer system — the individual mandate is a very good idea.
If someone doesn’t have health insurance and gets sick or has an accident, they are typically going to end up at an emergency room. Emergency rooms are very expensive ways to treat people, but they are the only option for someone who doesn’t have insurance because they must treat you even if you can’t pay. But if you can’t pay, who pays for it?
We all do, of course. We pay for it in higher insurance rates and in increased taxes. So the individual mandate just says that if you choose to not have health insurance, they you have to pay a penalty to the IRS to cover the fact that you are likely to cost everyone else money. It doesn’t matter if you call it a tax or not.
Of course, it did matter to the Supreme Court — they were trying to decide whether it was constitutional, and the government does have the right to impose taxes to make people pay for things. And collecting the penalty through the IRS makes it close enough to a tax to make it constitutional.
Of course, the only reason it matters to Romney is because Republicans have all signed a pledge that says that taxes are bad. All taxes are bad. Even taxes that pay for things that everyone likes. Of course, that’s pure crazy. If we dropped taxes to zero, our country would fall apart in an instant.
But if Obama raised taxes (by imposing an individual mandate), then the Republican orthodoxy says that he is bad (and a socialist who wants to take your money and give it to someone else).
But if that is true, what does that make Romney?
UPDATE: Romney’s response to the Supreme Court decision, and other missteps, is even pissing off other conservatives. Some (including Rupert Murdoch) are even calling for Romney to replace his campaign staff.