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Acting White House Budget Director Didn’t Get the Obamacare Memo

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By Doug Powers  •  February 15, 2012 04:43 PM

**Written by Doug Powers

When the Obamacare law starts being dissected in front of the Supreme Court this spring, one of the administration’s arguments will be (and has always been) that the law is constitutional because “requiring individuals to buy health insurance is an exercise of Congress’ taxing authority.” This, they say, is because of the fine (tax, levy, revenue enhancer, whatever you want to call it…) that will have to be paid by those who don’t carry a health insurance policy. Therefore, it isn’t really a mandate at all because you can always opt for the fine. This way you’re free to choose between something you don’t want, and something else you don’t want.

Anyway, the key point is the tax, because that’s the crux of the administration’s case. Today, acting White House budget director Jeff Zients was being questioned on Capitol Hill, and he seems to have undermined the tax argument.

Transcript from the Weekly Standard:

Rep. Scott Garrett: “So if I am part of a family that does not buy health insurance in violation of the President’s health care program and I got to pay because of that, that is not a tax incre – that is not a tax on me?”

Acting White House Budget Director Jeff Zients: “The Affordable Care Act saves money.”

Rep. Garrett: “I understand that, but is that a tax on me then if I do not pay that, or is that not a tax?”

Zeints: “I’m not sure I’m following the question.”

Rep. Garrett: “You said there’s no tax increases on people who make under $250,000. If I make under $250,000 and I do not buy health insurance as I’m required to under the Affordable Healthcare Act , is that a tax on me or is that not a tax on me?”

Zeints: “Well this is –”

Rep. Garrett: “A moment ago you said there’s no tax increase.”

Zeints: “There aren’t.”

Rep. Garrett: “So that’s not a tax?”

Zeints: “No.”

Rep. Garrett: “That’s not a tax. Okay. I just want to be clear on that because that’s not the argument the administration is making. Let’s move on — before the Supreme Court.”

Going against established talking points like that is one way for an acting budget director to make sure he never gets to be the budget director:

In 2009, President Obama said the fine for non-compliance wouldn’t be a tax increase — but Obama didn’t say it wasn’t a tax at all like Zeints, who is no doubt being debriefed as we speak, said today.

This whole thing plays out like an Abbott & Costello skit. Too bad it’s not confined to celluloid.

**Written by Doug Powers

Twitter @ThePowersThatBe

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