Part 2—Our scribes aren’t up to this challenge: Is the “penalty” in the health care law actually a tax?
American journalists are miles beyond their (limited) depth in trying to figure that out.
Alas! Especially at the highest levels, our journalists have a very hard time even getting the simplest facts straight. In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen a succession of highest-ranking “journalists” as they make a wide array of bogus factual statements:
The Texas schools have good test scores—but Gail Collins is tramping the countryside saying their test scores stink.
Last week, Gene Robinson declared that SB 1070 includes “the requirement that police check the immigration status of anyone who is detained”—a claim which is plainly inaccurate.
Another Pulitzer winner, Kathleen Parker, seemed to have no idea that there actually are quite a few new taxes in the health care law. In a new profile in Rolling Stone, Rachel Maddow is praised to the skies for making a statement about the male-female wage gap—a statement which was plainly inaccurate. (See our next post.)
As a group, these people just aren’t very sharp. Often, they aren’t overwhelmingly honest. In many cases, it has been years since they tried to clarify something important—to figure something out.
They spend their time in makeup and hair. Then, they pore over their Q-ratings. They waste valuable time doing daytime shows or in consultation with agents.
And then, omigod! A dispute arises—in this case, a semantic dispute! Do you really think that creatures like these can help you figure it out? You might as well ask them to hold the whole sea in their mouths, as that one brother did long ago.
Is that “penalty” really a tax? For ourselves, we would answer the question this way: In a sense, but not as such!
Let’s offer a bit more detail:
In one fairly straightforward way, the so-called “penalty” clearly is a penalty (or a fine). Citizens are told they must do X (in this case, they must obtain health insurance). If the citizen doesn’t do X, he must surrender some money.
In a straightforward way, that would routinely be called a penalty or a fine. How do we know that? As Senator Ervin so smartly said: Because we speak the English language. It’s our mother tongue!
In a fairly straightforward way, the provision in question really is a penalty. But then, in one fairly straightforward way, it pretty much seems like some form of a “tax.” Under terms of the health care law, the penalty must be paid through the IRS—through the offending citizen’s annual tax submission.
If the citizen fails to obtain insurance, his tax submission will be higher next April. In this sense, it certainly looks like a “tax” is somehow involved!
In our personal view, this submission is more a fine (or a fee) than a tax. But there is no law in nature which says it can’t be both, in some sense or other.
There is no Mount Semantica here on this earth. No prophet ever brought tablets down from any such mountain, telling us what we must call things.
There is no rule which declares that some provision must be a penalty or must be a tax. Nor did Justice Roberts, in his ruling, make such a declaration about the provision under review.
Roberts, you see, is a good deal smarter than most of our high-ranking “journalists.” Tomorrow, we’ll look at what he did say—and no, he actually didn’t say that the submission is question is just flat-out a tax. But then, you have seen very few news orgs which have bothered quoting and discussing what Roberts actually said.
People! That would qualify as hard work—and our “journalists” simply don’t it! In this case, they wouldn’t know how to perform such work if they decided to try.
Actually trying to figure things out is an offense to the guild.
The current dispute is especially noxious to the guild because it’s a “semantic” dispute. Such disputes can actually be very important—but in the preserves of businessmen, it’s more common to roll one’s eyes at such disputes, renouncing them as confections.
At one time, Josh Marshall was one of our smartest players. But then, he took a different route. Yesterday, he was offering this unwise and unhelpful proclamation:
MARSHALL (7/2/12): Stop the stupidMarshall went on to make an important and accurate point—the claim that the overall health care law represents the biggest tax increase in history is just moronically stupid. But in the process, he acted like the “sematic” dispute isn’t really worth clarifying.
I’ve got a question: Just how stupid are all you reporters? No, that’s not a rhetorical question. Whether you want to call the ACA health care mandate a tax or not is mainly a semantic point. It’s a penalty or tax or perhaps a tax penalty on people who refuse to purchase health insurance, even after they received subsidies that make it possible. But Republicans are now saying it’s the “biggest tax increase in history”–either of America or the universe of whatever. But this is demonstrably false.
Sorry—that’s unintelligent too. Some “semantic” disputes are mere confections. But some such disputes are very real. They can be very important.
Unfortunately, asking the “press corps” to clarify such a dispute is like asking them to swallow the ocean. Remember the last time this happened?
In 1995 and 1996, we were hit with a major semantic dispute. At issue was President Clinton’s claim that the GOP was proposing unacceptably large Medicare cuts.
The GOP responded by insisting that their proposals included no “cuts” at all! For the better part of two years, the mainstream press corps floundered and flailed in the face of this dispute.
Our “journalists” were several miles over their heads in this groaning nightly discussion. No professors stepped forward to help them—and none will step forward now. The truth is, we have no professors of semantics or logic. For the most part, our “professors” are fictitious too.
Is that provision really a tax? Justice Roberts didn’t exactly say that it was. But our “journalists” are too lazy to quote him, and if they did, they would have no idea how to proceed from there. This leaves us with semi-floundering exchanges like this one:
TODD (7/2/12): The governor [Romney] does not believe the mandate is a tax? That's what you're saying?You shouldn’t call the tax penalty a tax! You should call the tax penalty a penalty!
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. But again—
TODD: So he agrees with the president? But he agrees with the president that it is not— And he believes that you shouldn't call the, the tax penalty a tax? You should call it a penalty or a fee or a fine?
FEHRNSTROM: That's correct.
In truth, our old pal Chuck did better than most in constructing that somewhat confusing account. But tremendous confusion is going to reign as a fictitious press corps holds fictitious discussions in which they pretend to be figuring out this confusing dispute.
Might we offer a few words of wisdom? You can call him Johnson or you can call him Jackson! She was Faye Dunaway's sister and her daughter! Certs is a candy mint—and it’s a breath mint!
(“You’re both right,” the announcer famously declared. “New Certs is two mints in one!”)
In our view, the penalty imposed by the individual mandate isn’t much of a “tax.” Essentially, it’s a fine (or a fee) which must be paid (for the sake of convenience) through a citizen’s tax submission. Would anybody call it a “tax” if the offending citizen had to pay the fee by sending a separate check to the Treasury?
In that case, very few people would call it a tax. But the essential transaction’s the same.
In our view, this isn’t much of a “tax.” On the other hand, as Justice Roberts kept saying in his opinion, fines and fees and penalties and taxes are just different types of “exactions.” In every case, citizens are required to submit a chunk of money to the government.
Is a fee really different from a tax? Just how different is it?
In normal parlance, we wouldn’t call this submission a tax; we’d be much more inclined to call it a fine. But then, that’s pretty much what Roberts said in his rarely-quoted opinion.
Your “journalists” won’t worry their pretty heads reading through Roberts’ actual words. That would qualify as work. Instead, they’ll do what they always do:
They’ll quote what different people have said. Then, they’ll shout their slogans.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at Roberts’ words. Happy Fourth, everybody!
Tomorrow: Quoting the raven
Watching our journalists talk: David Gregory is very famous. He is paid—what—eight million dollars per year?
(We couldn’t find an estimate; the mainstream "press corps" protects its own from such unseemly disclosures. At the time he took over Meet the Press, Gregory’s wife was being paid $3 million per year as executive vice president of Fannie Mae, according to Human Events and FAIR.)
Gregory is very high ranking; he seems like a decent guy. But here’s part of the way he reasoned and talked on Sunday’s Meet the Press.
He spoke with Nancy Pelosi:
GREGORY (7/1/12): To the extent that you believe and others believe the Supreme Court has conferred an extra level of legitimacy on this health care act, the reality is that the Court also said that the act is in effect a tax, that the individual mandate requiring that folks who can buy insurance is a tax.At least he said “in effect” at one point. But tell us this:
GREGORY: But it's a new tax.
PELOSI: No, no, but—
GREGORY: It is a new tax on the American people.
PELOSI: No, no, no. It's not a tax on the American people. It's a tax—it's a penalty for free riders.
Projections say that this penalty will be paid by one percent of the public. Even if you want to call it a “tax,” would you call it a tax “on the American people” if it’s only paid by one percent of such folk?
There are no tablets from Mount Semantica which can settle such disputes. We’re left with our own abilities and skills—and the skills of the press corps are few.
At one time, loose lips sank ships. Today, loose lips tilt our major discussions.
Same basic idea.