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The much-anticipated Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act put to rest any lingering doubts about President Obama's signature legislative achievement.
That is the Court clarified what Obama denied and Republicans charged all along. And that is, Obamacare represents a massive tax hike to forcibly extend health care insurance to some 30 million Americans who currently don't have it for one reason or another. Never mind the millions of Americans who can afford to buy health insurance but choose not to pay for it.
The silver lining in all of this mess comes to us courtesy of Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion for the Court's 5-4 decision in National Federation of Independent Businesses, et al. v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al. Though he angered conservatives by siding with the liberals on the Court, Roberts acutely captured why Obamacare passed the smell test on constitutional grounds. As Roberts put it, the Congress has the authority to levy taxes to influence conduct or compel behavior, even if taxes are part of legislation that could be interpreted as bad policy.
Roberts obviously arrived at that opinion because he correctly declared that the penalties Obamacare spelled out for not buying health insurance were simply taxes, not penalties or fines or whatever you care to call them.
"The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax," Roberts wrote. "Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness."
The Court rejected the Obama administration's argument that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional per the Commerce Clause. In other words, the administration argued that the Congress had the authority to require individuals to buy health insurance because individuals who were compelled to buy it would engage in interstate commerce. Not forcing individuals to buy health insurance would serve as an impediment to interstate commerce, the administration argued.
There's no doubt the health insurance industry is big business, but the Court held the Commerce Clause did not apply in this case because the Affordable Care Act attempted to regulate commerce that did not yet exist. After all, the act was not implemented while its constitutionality was determined by the Courts.
"The individual mandate, however, does not regulate existing commercial activity," Roberts wrote. "It instead compels individuals to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, on the ground that their failure to do so affects interstate commerce. Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority."
That brings us back to the tax issue.
Did the Court open the door for the Congress to impose a tax to compel an activity, or commerce, so the Congress could eventually regulate it through the Commerce Clause?
That's neither here nor there, or a question for someone far smarter than me to answer.
Instead, the $64,000 question is will the likely Republican nominee for president, Gov. Mitt Romney, seize the opportunity to draw a clear distinction between himself and Obama?
Think about it.
Since 2009 when Obama started using the bully pulpit of the presidency to talk up his efforts to overhaul access to health insurance in America, the president vehemently denied his plan centered on raising taxes to pay for it. Now that we know the truth, according to the Supreme Court no less, will Romney use the Court's decision to explain to the American people that Obama has engaged policy that will gin up some $500 billion in new revenues for the federal government over the next 10 years?
The tax cuts the Congress embraced in 2001 and 2003 – better known as the Bush tax cuts – expire Dec. 31 of this year. If they expire and income tax rates revert to levels that were applicable throughout much of the Clinton years, the U.S. Treasury will pick up $1 trillion in new tax revenues over the next 10 years thanks to higher income taxes paid by the American people.
In all, that's $1.5 trillion in new revenues for the federal government, or some $1.5 trillion sucked out of the U.S. economy.
Make no mistake, those are the most significant issues of this year's presidential campaign.
Let's hope Romney and his well-placed advisors realize they've been handed a golden opportunity to expose Obama for what he is, an incompetent socialist.