President Barack Obama argued emphatically, in 2009, that the individual mandate being proposed in the new health care law was not a tax, while many conservatives argued that it was a tax. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has saved the law on the basis that it is a tax. The decision gives Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney an issue to run on in the presidential race, but Romney supported a state-level individual mandate when he was governor of Massachusetts.
The Supreme Court "reaffirmed a fundamental principle -- that here in America, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no illness or accident should lead to any family's financial ruin," President Obama said in a press conference after the ruling Thursday.
Obama made no mention, though, of the fact that his signature achievement was saved by calling it a tax increase.
Many court watchers were expecting the court to strike down the individual mandate after hearing the oral arguments.
"'Obamacare' in Trouble After Supreme Court Arguments," The Christian Post wrote after the hearing.
This was based upon the fact that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was expected to be the swing vote in the case, seemed deeply skeptical that Congress had the constitutional authority to require most Americans to purchase health insurance. But it was Chief Justice John Roberts who joined the liberal wing of the court to uphold the law.
The individual mandate "is absolutely not a tax increase," Obama argued in 2009 in a contentious interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week."
Many pundits noted the irony, therefore, when Obama's solicitor general argued before the court that Congress has the authority to require that individuals purchase health insurance based upon the Commerce Clause and its authority to "lay and collect taxes." While Roberts rejected the argument that Congress has the authority under the Commerce Clause, he accepted that the penalty imposed for not purchasing health insurance is a tax.
Another irony is that some Democrats, in anticipation that the court would strike down the law, had already been arguing that the court has become too political and partisan. Will they still make that argument now that the Ccourt ruled in their favor?
Whether or not to repeal the individual mandate legislatively is now destined to become an issue in the 2012 election.
"If we want to get rid of 'Obamacare,' we are going to have to replace President Obama," Romney said in a press conference after the court's decision.
Yet another irony is that both Obama and Romney have flip-flopped on the issue of the individual mandate.
During the 2008 primary election, Obama opposed an individual mandate as he was looking to secure the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton, who supported the mandate. Plus, as governor of Massachusetts, Romney supported a state-level health law that included an individual mandate. Obama noted these facts during his press conference.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) included the individual mandate, Obama said, "even though I knew it would be unpopular and I opposed it in my campaign."
"In fact," Obama added, "this idea has enjoyed support from members of both parties, including the current Republican nominee for president."
Romney made clear in his speech that he does not support a nationwide mandate to purchase health insurance.
"What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day as president of the United States, and that is I will act to repeal 'Obamacare,'" Romney said.
Romney did not provide much detail on what he would replace it with, but mentioned four features that he would want to see in any alternative to the ACA. He would want to let people keep their current insurance, make sure that those with preexisting decisions would be able to keep their insurance, help each state provide access to insurance to all its residents and lower the cost of health care and health insurance.