The Supreme Court may call it a tax and Republicans may call it a tax, but Democrats insisted Sunday that the fee for noncompliance with the Affordable Care Act bears no resemblance to the T-word.
White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew called it a “penalty” and estimated that it would affect only about 1 percent of Americans.
“Let’s be clear on who that 1 percent is: Those are people who can afford health insurance, who choose not to buy it, and then when they get sick they go to the hospital and the cost gets spread among all the people paying for insurance,” Mr. Lew told host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.” “The court found it constitutional. Frankly, what you call it is not the issue.”
Mr. Stephanopoulos noted that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. described it as a tax.
“We call it fair,” Mr. Lew said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, also refused to use take the “tax” bait in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“No, it’s a penalty,” she said. “It’s a penalty that comes under the tax code for the 1 percent perhaps of the population who may decide that they are going to be free-riders. But most people are not affected by it. No, no, it’s not a tax on the American people; it’s a penalty for free-riders.”
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, repeated the “free-rider penalty” talking point on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
But House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, accused the Democrats of “hypocrisy” for refusing to acknowledge the health care law’s tax increase on “This Week.”
“The president on your show said that this is not a tax, and then he sent his solicitor general to the Supreme Court to argue that it is a tax in order to get this past the Supreme Court,” Mr. Ryan said.
“The broken promises and hypocrisy are becoming breathtaking from the president who says one thing to get this past Congress and another thing to get it past the Supreme Court. Believe me, if this was brought to the public as a tax, there’s no way this law would have passed as a law in the first place.”
Mr. Ryan said the ruling has re-energized GOP voters, given that the law can be repealed now only if Republicans win the presidency and the Senate.
“We think we can repeal this law if we win this election, and that’s what the chief justice said, it’s now up to the American people,” Mr. Ryan said. “It’s beyond Congress, the president and even the Supreme Court. The American people will be the judge and the jury of this law come November.”
That view was echoed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, who called the law the “single worst piece of legislation” passed in modern times.
“We’ve got one last chance here to beat Obamacare, and we can do that in the November election,” Mr. McConnell said on “Fox News Sunday.”
If Republicans retake control of the Senate next year, Mr. McConnell said, he would support using budget reconciliation rules to repeal the health care law.
Doing so would prohibit Senate filibusters and require only 51 votes.
Mrs. Pelosi said she doubted that campaigning against the health care law would work, given that voters already are experiencing benefits from the Affordable Care Act and that some will be receiving refund checks in August.
“Some people say they’re already getting reduced rates for next year, thanks to the Affordable Care Act,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “Seniors are already paying less for prescription drugs. They may not know it, but it’s because of the Affordable Care Act, and we have to make sure that they do know it.”
The House is scheduled to vote again to overturn the law July 11, but that vote is almost certain to be largely symbolic with the Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House.