All weekend long, I heard Republicans and right-wing pundits essentially suggest what Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed last Thursday:
From Limbaugh’s monologue:
What has been upheld here is fraud, and the Internal Revenue Service has just become Barack Obama’s domestic army. That is what we face now. We were deceived. Obamacare was a lie. It was a stealth tax on all Americans, and nobody knew it until today. Not officially. Obama told George Stephanopoulos it wasn’t a tax. And Stephanopoulos was trouble-making for trying to suggest otherwise.
Get it? The Supreme Court held that the Affordable Care Act’s mandate “was a stealth tax on all Americans.” On all Americans. That’s the way Republicans are spinning the ruling, as they once again smear Democrats as incorrigible taxers, particularly taxers of the middle class.
And many journalists let them get away with it, including George Stephanopolous, who has been on the receiving end of a lot of right-wing attacks for being in the tank for Democrats. Watching him do his journalism is sometimes painful. It’s as if he is trying to avoid any criticism at all from conservatives.
On ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Stephanopolous grilled White House chief of staff Jack Lew over what to call failure to comply with the ACA’s health care mandate. Lew wanted to call it a penalty, which it is, and Stephanopolous insisted that Lew acknowledge it was in fact a tax. Stephanopolous was so proud of his aggressiveness against a White House staffer that he posted this blog:
Good for Stephanopolous that he tried to pin down a spokesman for President Obama on something the journalist thought important: whether failure to comply with the ACA’s mandate engenders a tax or a penalty. But by doing so, Stephanopolous was aiding the obvious Republican effort to falsely attack Democrats for raising taxes on the working and middle class, an effort given new and possibly everlasting life by the Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday.
But why didn’t Stephanopolous’ aggressiveness work both ways on this issue? GOP budget guru Paul Ryan appeared on the same program and our fearless journalist was, uh, suddenly not that interested in whether the mandate is a penalty or a tax. Here is the part of their exchange in which Ryan brings up the mandate:
RYAN: No. Look — look at the hypocrisy. The president on your show said this is not a tax. 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.
The broken promises and the hypocrisy are becoming breathtaking from the president who says one thing to get this past Congress and then another thing to get it past the Supreme Court. Look, I was here fighting this bill, George, in the last session of Congress. Believe me, if this was brought to the public as a tax, there’s no way this law would have passed into law in the first place. That’s what’s so frustrating and disappointing with this law.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I think you may be right about that…
That, my friends, is what happens to journalists who are afraid they will get charged with friendliness toward the president or Democrats in general. Why didn’t Stephanopolous attempt to pin Ryan down on what he would call failure to comply with the mandate? Is it a tax or is it a penalty, Mr. Ryan?
Since Ryan said he agreed “with the dissenting judges” in the case—who were emphatic about calling it a penalty—why didn’t he get asked if he in fact thought it was a penalty? Or whether he agreed with Mitch McConnell when he said,
Well, the Supreme Court has spoken. This law is a tax. The bill was sold to the American people on a deception.
Is it really a tax, Mr. Ryan? Why didn’t Stephanopolous make him contradict McConnell by acknowledging he doesn’t believe it is a tax?
Or why didn’t Stephanopolous ask Ryan—who may be Romney’s VP—what the same mandate was called in Massachusetts, when Mittens was selling it to the folks there? While governor, Romney did not call the mandate—designed to get something out of those he called “free riders“—a tax, as Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom admitted to Chuck Todd on MSNBC this morning, as Todd pressed him on the point:
TODD: What did you call it in Massachusetts? Were you guys calling it a tax or penalty?
FEHRNSTROM: A penalty.
Fehnrnstrom said a bit later:
The governor has consistently described the mandate in Masschusetts as a penalty.
Then Todd pressed on:
TODD: What you just said is that Governor Romney agrees it is not a tax. You guys called it a penalty.
FEHRNSTROM: The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court. He agreed with the dissent that was written by Justice Scalia, which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax.
TODD: So, I think we’re talking around each other. The governor does not believe the mandate is a tax? That’s what you’re saying?
FEHRNSTROM: 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.
TODD: So, he agrees with the President that you shouldn’t call the tax penalty a tax, you should call it a penalty or fee or fine?
FEHRNSTROM: That’s correct…
Republicans, of course, want to have it both ways. They want to embrace Justice Scalia and the dissenters in the ACA case—who claim that John Roberts simply rewrote the statute, “imposing a tax through judicial legislation” that “inverts the constitutional scheme”—while they campaign against Obama and Democrats as imposing a new “tax” on the American people.
The truth is that whatever one wants to call the mandate—how about a Scab Tax?—Romney and Republicans know that one-percent or less of the American people will ever pay it. And those folks, “free riders” as Romney has so famously called them, who want to have something for nothing, now have a champion in Rush, Romney, and the Republican Party.