Politics

07.02.12

Dems: Starting to Get It, But As Usual Not Quite Right

Back on March 28, around the time of the ACA hearings at the Supreme Court, I wrote that Democrats and liberals should start talking about health care as a responsibility and not a right. This didn't come naturally to them/us, who would much rather talk about health care as a right. But, I argued then, it would have been a better framing all along.

Well, they may not have read me, but they did read John Roberts, and now they're getting it. TPM reports that figures such as Nancy Pelosi and OMB head Jack Lew started talking about the responsibility to buy insurance on the chat shows this weekend and discussed the so-called "free rider" problem.

All good. Especially so because responsibility and the free-rider rhetoric are lifted directly from Mitt Romney, as recently as three years ago, so if Obama and the Democrats talk about these things, Romney can't very well say they don't make sense without sounding like a complete hypocrite.

But I see that in addition they're making an error here. They're trying to deny that it's a tax:

“It’s not a tax on the American people,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “It’s a penalty for free riders.”

No no no! Don't try to deny that it's a tax. The Supreme Court said it's a tax. It's a tax. Live with it. As I and others have written, it's a tax that will apply only to people who don't follow the law--or put another way, to people who expect you and me to pay for their emergency-room treatment--and a tax that studies show will be levied on around 2 percent of the people. But this is a very important point of rhetoric.

It doesn't pass the smell test to go around now saying it's not a tax, after the Supreme Court--not just John Roberts, but the four liberals--said it was. This is just reflexive fear of the t-word. No! This is a tax fight they can win (for the reasons stated in the above graf) and ought to fight. And anyway they just open themselves up to obvious charges of being dishonest and smarmy (at best).

So yes: talk about health coverage as a responsibility. Good! But don't deny the reality that the Court created. It can't be done credibly.