Court Ruling Triggers Tax Debate On Capitol Hill

Jackie Judd talks to KHN’s Mary Agnes Carey about Tuesday’s House Ways and Means Committee session on the individual mandate and congressional taxing authority. They also preview Wednesday’s House vote to repeal the health law.

Court Ruling Triggers Tax Debate On Capitol Hill

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., during a hearing on January 26, 2011. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

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Here’s the transcript:

JACKIE JUDD:  Good day, this is Health on the Hill. I’m Jackie Judd. The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the health overhaul law is front and center today on Capitol Hill. The Republican-controlled House is debating whether to repeal the measure again, and there have been news conferences and committee hearings on the impact of the court’s decision.

Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News covered the Ways & Means session. Mary Agnes, welcome.

The focus there, of course, was on taxes. What were the highlights?

MARY AGNES CAREY:  They talked a lot about the Supreme Court’s decision that Congress could, through its taxing powers, levy a penalty on individuals who didn’t purchase health insurance by 2014 —

JACKIE JUDD:  — the mandate —

MARY AGNES CAREY:  — the mandate – that’s right, the individual mandate.

Republicans were saying that this deserves to be looked at closely. And if Congress were going to be allowed to do that, where would it end? Could future Congresses use their taxing authority for the good of the country?

Dave Camp, who is the chairman of the committee, talked about: Is this a first step into a brave new world of uncontrolled congressional power on taxation? 

Democrats, for their part, looked at the idea that not a lot of folks will have to pay this penalty. They talked about Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 1 percent of Americans would be faced with this penalty. They also spent a lot of time talking about things in the law that people like: No more lifetime limits on coverage; adult children up to 26 being allowed to stay on a parent’s health insurance plan; the fact that millions more Americans will get coverage. They basically have said, as President Obama has said: The Supreme Court has spoken on this. Now we need to move on.

JACKIE JUDD:  As I said at the top, the court’s decision was front-and-center on the Hill today. Republicans may not win the war – that is, repeal this law – but they could win some battles along the way. I think a day like today really points out that it is important who controls the House.

MARY AGNES CAREY:  The House of Representatives – Republicans control the committee schedule. They control the floor schedule. So they can do as they did today: schedule a lot of hearings on the tax element of the health law schedule a lot of hearings on the tax element of the health law, on how it affects the health care industry and how it affects physicians and patients – have this kind of full-court press looking at some of the elements of the health law that they think are the weak spots. I think you may have future hearings on the Medicaid expansion, on the subsidy levels.  As we talked about, they had one today on the individual mandate.  They want to focus on those and get that messaging out there.

JACKIE JUDD: And it appeals to the base.  It also forces Democrats to address the issues – some issues – they perhaps would rather not?

MARY AGNES CAREY: For example, the idea that someone could be taxed if they didn’t comply with the mandate. And the idea today was raised in the Ways and Means Committee, this idea, now for example, there’s no jail time if you don’t pay that penalty, but couldn’t a future Congress come back and lift that restriction? Couldn’t a future Congress come back and raise those penalties? And of course they could. Those are the sorts of things Democrats really wouldn’t want to talk about, but Republicans are forcing it.

JACKIE JUDD: Tomorrow, Wednesday, the House is taking yet another vote on whether to repeal the law. The outcome is not a surprise. But again, it will go to the Senate and it will die, right?


JACKIE JUDD: And so the purpose is what we just discussed?

MARY AGNES CAREY: It’s the messaging machine. How you can say as Republicans campaigning for office – remember in the next election, we have got control of the White House and Congress at stake – you can say to the American public: We want to rip this out by the roots. And in order to do it, we need to have control – you the voter need to give us control. So this continues that messaging.

JACKIE JUDD: And I think we will continue to talk about through this campaign season.

MARY AGNES CAREY: I think we will.

JACKIE JUDD: Thank you so much, Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News. I’m Jackie Judd.

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