The Individual Mandate: Not a Tax, Except for When It Is

Along the lines of my oped with Bob Levy in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer explaining why an individual mandate is unconstitutional, here’s a poor, unsuccessful letter I submitted to the editor of the Washington Post:

To the Editor:

In one column, Ruth Marcus [“Health scare tactics,” Nov. 11] says it is “not true” that the House-passed health care overhaul “raises taxes for just about everyone.”  The same column, however, explains that anyone who doesn’t comply with the bill’s mandate that everyone purchase health insurance, or the associated fines, “could, in theory, be prosecuted — just like others who cheat on their taxes” (emphasis added).

A subsequent column [“An ‘Illegal’ Mandate? No,” Nov. 26] notes, “The individual mandate is to be administered through the tax code,” and finds constitutional authorization for it in Congress’ power to tax.

Let me see if I have this straight.  The Constitution’s taxing power authorizes it.  The IRS would enforce it.  If I don’t fork over what it demands, I face fines and jail time.  But somehow, the individual mandate is not a tax.

Fortunately, there are much better ways to reform health care.