Conservatives seize on tax label to attack healthcare ruling

WASHINGTON — Critics of President Obama’s healthcare overhaul are seizing on the Supreme Court’s ruling that the individual mandate can be upheld as a tax penalty, saying that formulation offers them a fresh way to attack the measure.

“If they’re going to uphold it, frankly this is the most helpful way to uphold it,” said Tim Phillips, president of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, which on Friday launched a new $9-million ad campaign calling the measure “one of the largest tax increases in American history.”

“Shouldn’t Obama’s priorities have been creating jobs and ending reckless spending?” asks a female narrator in the spot, which the group says is airing in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. “Instead, he focused on a $2-trillion healthcare takeover that we have to pay for. How can we afford this tax? We’re already struggling.”

The same talking point was also taken up by Crossroads GPS, another tax-exempt advocacy group, which said Friday it updated an ad it is running in North Dakota against Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp to accuse her of supporting a measure that “raises half a trillion dollars in taxes on Americans.”


The use of “tax” as a cudgel by conservatives is sure to trigger a heated back-and-forth about the precise tax impact of the Affordable Care Act. As noted, a large majority of Americans -- those who buy health insurance -- will not experience a tax increase as a result of the measure. But individuals who do not obtain health insurance will have to a pay a penalty, which the Supreme Court said Thursday can be considered a tax.

Obama has said that people who buy health insurance should not have to absorb the costs of paying the health bills, through higher insurance premiums, of those who can afford their own insurance but refuse to buy it. The fee would start at $95 in 2014 and increase to $695 by 2016, although it will be capped at no more than $2,085 per family -- still considerably less than the annual cost of a typical health insurance policy. Altogether, the money from the tax is expected to raise about $6 billion a year to help pay for healthcare coverage.

Phillips said AFP plans to press its tax message not only on the television airwaves, but through a social media campaign and grass-roots rallies around the country.

“The president clearly does not want to talk about this issue…he said it’s time to move on,” Phillips said. “We’re not willing to. We’re going to force a thorough debate on this healthcare issue.”

AFP is one of the largest outside groups participating in the 2012 race, with a budget of $100 million for just this year. The group is believed to be supported in part by the billionaire Koch brothers and their allies, but as a tax-exempt 501(c)4, it does not have to disclose its donors.