Republicans try to use tax label to turn public opinion against Affordable Care Act

The Takeaway

The GOP has shifted their plan for turning back President Barack Obama's health care law from the courthouse to the ballot box.

Over the weekend, Republicans sought to turn the Supreme Court’s ruling to their advantage by pushing the idea that the individual mandate is a tax increase on the middle class.

"The President said that it was not a tax. The Supreme Court, which has the final say, says it is a tax," said Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.

Todd Zwillich, The Takeaway's Washington correspondent, says what Republicans are doing is redefining what the Affordable Care Act is, at least in the minds of voters.

"Chief Justice John Roberts did throw them a pretty big bone there. 'Tax' is a dirty word," Zwillich said.

The Affordable Care Act requires Americans to buy health insurance, which will be subsidized for some by the government, and that particular provision, known as "the mandate," was found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision. Roberts provided the deciding vote, ruling the individual mandate was constitutional because Congress has the authority to tax. 

While the ruling was a victory for the Obama administration, it makes for a bit of irony that the Supreme Court defined the mandate as a tax when the president's main argument in urging Congress to pass the legislation was that the mandate was not a tax. Republicans, Zwillich says, have seized upon that as part of their argument for a repeal. 

"Republicans (are trying) to redefine the narrative for the election about why it's so important to elect Republicans to the Senate and Mitt Romney (to the White House), because (McConnell) knows and they know that electing Mitt Romney and winning the Senate is that last, only chance to undo the Affordable Care Act before it is enshrined as an entitlement for a generation," Zwillich said. "If they don't repeal it in this next election, they're not going to be able to do it, most likely, for many decades."

Meanwhile, Republican state governors are looking to stall any efforts to implement the Affordable Care Act in their own states.

"Every governor's got two critical decisions to make: one is do we set up these exchanges, and two, do we expand Medicaid. And no, in Louisiana we're not doing either one of those," Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, said on Meet the Press on Sunday. 

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has similarly said he won't be doing anything to bring his state into compliance with the law until the results of the November election are made clear.

"What the federal government has said is that if states choose not to set up these health care exchanges that will be in place in each state under the ACA, the federal government will do it for them [by] 2014, when the full breadth of the law goes into effect," said Reid J. Epstein, a White House reporter for Politico.

A few states, including New York and California, have prepared legislation to establish these exchanges, but the majority have not.

"The Obama administration would like each state to , but we've seen a lot of governors and a lot of state legislatures say that they're not going to take part," Epstein said.

Zwillich believes Republicans' branding the individual mandate as a tax will breathe fire into the upcoming elections for Senate seats.

"Republicans can't (repeal the ACA) unless they win the election," he said. "It's their last chance to do it, (so) they'll fundraise like crazy."