In the most contentious exchange of President Obama’s marathon through five Sunday shows, he said it is “not true” that a requirement for individuals to get health insurance under a key reform plan now being debated — a requirement known as an “individual mandate” — amounts to a tax increase.
But he could look it up — in the bill.
Page 29, sentence one of the bill introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont) says: “The consequence for not maintaining insurance would be an excise tax.”
The “Chairman’s Mark: America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009” continues: “If a taxpayer‘s MAGI is between 100-300 percent of FPL, the excise tax for failing to obtain coverage for an individual in a taxpayer unit (either as a taxpayer or an individual claimed as a dependent) is $750 per year. However, the maximum penalty for the taxpayer unit is $1,500. If a taxpayer‘s MAGI is above 300 percent of FPL the penalty for failing to obtain coverage for an individual in a taxpayer unit (either as a taxpayer or as an individual claimed as a dependent) is $950 year. However, the maximum penalty amount a family above 300 percent of FPL would pay is $3,800.”
Here's the exchange between Obama and George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week,” taped Friday at the White House:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Probably the most definitive promise you made in the campaign is that no one in the middle class would get a tax increase on your watch.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet this week, Senator Rockefeller and several other Democrats say that this bill by Senator Baucus is a big middle class tax increase.
Do you agree and does that mean you can't sign it?
OBAMA: Well, I don't agree. I think that what they were referring to - and I haven't looked at the quotes. But I think that they were concerned about whether or not this was actually affordable. If you're saying to people, you've got to get health insurance but they can't actually afford it and they have to pay a penalty if they don't get it, then that's a pretty big burden on middle class families. That's a concern I share — making sure that this is affordable.
But the first thing we've got to understand is you've got what is effectively a tax increase taking place on American families right now. The Kaiser Family Foundation report just came out last week. Health care premiums went up 5.5 percent last year, at a time when the rest of the economy, inflation was actually negative. So that is a huge bite out of people's pockets.
And part of what I've been trying to say throughout this campaign - this effort to get health care done — is that if we don't do anything, guaranteed, Americans' costs are going to go up, more people are going to lose health care coverage, the insurance companies are going to continue to prevent people from getting it for pre-existing conditions. Those are all burdens on people who have health insurance right now. And...
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is true, but...
OBAMA: And so -- and so -- just -- just to close the loop on this, the principles I've put forward very clearly, when I spoke to the joint session of Congress, is that we're going to make sure that, number one, if you don't have health insurance, you're going to be able to get affordable health insurance.
Number two, if you have health insurance, we're going to have insurance reforms that give you more security -- you know what you're going to get. You know that if you're paying your premiums, you're actually going to have coverage when you get sick.
Number three, it's going to be deficit neutral -- it's not going to add a dime to the deficit, now or in the future.
Number four, it's going to start driving down our costs over the long-term.
Now, 80 percent of what I'd like to see is actually already in all the various bills that are in Congress. That last 20 percent is tough because we've got to figure out -- making sure that we're paying for it properly, making sure that it really is relief to families who don't have health insurance, making sure that all the various details that are out there line up. And that's going to take some time.
But I think that the effort by the Senate Finance Committee is a serious, strong effort to move an agenda forward. We've seen some positive signs from people who might have been otherwise a little bit shaky on health care, including Republican Olympia Snowe, I think, had some nice things to.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hasn't signed on yet, though.
OBAMA: Hasn't signed on, but has said that this is a legitimate effort to try to solve the problem. What I want to see is that we just keep on working on it over the next several weeks.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about a matter of first principles, though. You mentioned these premium increases.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But they're not happening as a result of a decision by the government.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You were against the individual mandate...
STEPHANOPOULOS: ...during the campaign. Under this mandate, the government is forcing people to spend money, fining you if you don't
How is that not a tax?
OBAMA: Well, hold on a second, George. Here -- here's what's happening. You and I are both paying $900, on average -- our families -- in higher premiums because of uncompensated care. Now what I've said is that if you can't afford health insurance, you certainly shouldn't be punished for that. That's just piling on.
If, on the other hand, we're giving tax credits, we've set up an exchange, you are now part of a big pool, we've driven down the costs, we've done everything we can and you actually can afford health insurance, but you've just decided, you know what, I want to take my chances. And then you get hit by a bus and you and I have to pay for the emergency room care, that's...
STEPHANOPOULOS: That may be, but it's still a tax increase.
OBAMA: No. That's not true, George. The -- for us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. What it's saying is, is that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you anymore than the fact that right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase.
People say to themselves, that is a fair way to make sure that if you hit my car, that I'm not covering all the costs.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it may be fair, it may be good public policy...
OBAMA: No, but -- but, George, you -- you can't just make up that language and decide that that's called a tax increase. Any...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Here's the...
OBAMA: What -- what -- if I -- if I say that right now your premiums are going to be going up by 5 or 8 or 10 percent next year and you say well, that's not a tax increase; but, on the other hand, if I say that I don't want to have to pay for you not carrying coverage even after I give you tax credits that make it affordable, then...
STEPHANOPOULOS: I -- I don't think I'm making it up. Merriam Webster's Dictionary: Tax -- "a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes."
OBAMA: George, the fact that you looked up Merriam's Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you're stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn't have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition. I mean what...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no, but...
OBAMA: ...what you're saying is...
STEPHANOPOULOS: I wanted to check for myself. But your critics say it is a tax increase.
OBAMA: My critics say everything is a tax increase. My critics say that I'm taking over every sector of the economy. You know that.
Look, we can have a legitimate debate about whether or not we're going to have an individual mandate or not, but...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you reject that it's a tax increase?
OBAMA: I absolutely reject that notion.