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We Still Don’t Know What’s in It

Bill McGurn helps highlight two defects in ObamaCare — its uncertainty and its potential to bully the American people. They come together in the provision for an individual mandate, something Obama ran against during the campaign (when he was also promising not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000).

How could there be uncertainty about this key feature? Nancy Pelosi promised, after all, that if we passed it, we’d find out what was in it. Well, this is what comes of racing through a largely secretive legislative process. McGurn explains “one of the murkiest bits of this legislation”:

In testimony before a House Ways and Means subcommittee last Thursday, the IRS commissioner deflected questions about the agency’s precise role vis-à-vis health care. Mr. Shulman reassured citizens that this bill does not “fundamentally alter” their relationship with the IRS, and said the IRS would not be snooping into their health records. About the penalties associated with the mandate, he was less clear.

Partly that’s because the law is unclear. The original House bill opened the door for criminal sanctions against Americans who didn’t buy health insurance and pay the penalty. The Senate bill did the same until Sen. John Ensign (R., Nev.) successfully pushed to amend the bill. Even so, the final language begs the question that Mr. Shulman and Mr. Weiner avoided: Who’s going to enforce the mandate, and how?

You might wonder how we can possibly predict costs if we don’t know how many people, if any, are going to herded into the arms of Big Insurance. You might wonder how we are going to achieve compliance with a law that many already resent if it’s not even clear whether the IRS will go after people. Both are good questions, revealing just how uninterested the Democrats were in thinking through and crafting effective legislation. They simply wanted a notch in their belt and to silence the hollering from their base. Getting a coherent, understandable legislative scheme just wasn’t a priority for them.

And then there is the bullying if, in fact, the mandate exists and will be enforced with the full power of the federal government:

Almost by definition, those hit by the mandate will be either young people starting out, or those working for smaller businesses that do not provide employees with health coverage. Back in November, a report by the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that nearly half (46%) of the mandate penalties will be paid by Americans under 300% of the poverty line. In today’s dollars, that works out to $32,500 for an individual. For a family of four, it’s $66,150. …

In his appearance before Congress, Mr. Shulman stated he was still working on “the proper resources” the IRS would need to handle the tax provisions of the health-care act. Maybe that won’t mean 16,500 new agents. If the Republicans do manage to take back Congress come November, however, it should mean hearings in which Mr. Shulman provides the American people with specific answers about how much bigger the IRS is going to get because of this bill—and how exactly the IRS will deal with Americans who don’t pay the penalty tax.

So we will, as McGurn points out, either witness the IRS hassling modest-income Americans into buying insurance they don’t want, or the law will be “unenforced.” If it is the latter, all the estimated cost “savings” supposedly achieved by expanding the risk pool of the newly insured can be tossed onto the heap of misrepresentations and fiscal fantasies deployed to pass the bill despite the dire warnings of those like Rep. Paul Ryan. This is the personification of the ever-growing bureaucratic state — incomprehensible, threatening, and very, very expensive.



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