Republicans seek drama on Obamacare future
House Republicans sought to dramatize the Supreme Courtâ€™s ruling upholding President Barack Obamaâ€™s health law on Tuesday, when they warned that Congress could slap taxes on those failing to eat their vegetables and jail those who fail to comply.
At a packed room of the Republican-controlled House Ways and Means committee,Â witnesses called by the majority warned that the court’s opinion could bloat government power to a dangerous new level.
â€śWe must again consider whether the federal government can require people to purchase broccoli,” said Carrie Severino, a lawyer at the Judicial Crisis Network, echoing two other Republican witnesses. “Allowing unrestricted taxes on inactivity will open the door to taxes the likes of which this country has never seen.â€ť
The Court last month, in a surprise decision written by Republican-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts, upheld Obamaâ€™s Affordable Care Act, unleashing howls of protest from conservatives.
The 2010 healthcare law aims to add tens of millions of people to the insurance rolls by mandating those who do not hold insurance to pay a fee, or penalty.
The hearing started out relatively civil but evolved into a tense war of words among the parties about the lawâ€™s legitimacy. Democrats argued thatÂ the same Republicans opposing the law were opposed to the popular Social Security program and Republicans warned the government could force all citizens to buy hybrid vehicles.
The House is expected to vote to repeal what some call â€śObamacareâ€ť on Wednesday, but the bill is seen languishing in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Republican Dave Camp, the panel’s chairman,Â said that lawmakers might alter the healthcare law to give the Internal Revenue Service new powers to enforce it, such as putting people in jail and seizing their property. The IRS has no authority to do this under the current law.
“Not only could the imposition of penalties be changed by a future Congress, the level of the tax could be changed,â€ť Camp said.
Earlier, Camp said that as a result of the Supreme Courtâ€™s ruling, â€śthe limits on Congressâ€™s taxing power are now anything but clear.â€ť
The lead Democrat on the panel, Representative Sander Levin, suggested Camp was trying to instil fear into Americans by saying that Congress will run wild after the decision.
â€śIt is important that no one to able to scare the American people by suggesting that the sky is falling or that some wolf will be at their door,â€ť Levin said. â€śThe law restricts what can be done, you canâ€™t be jailed and all of that.â€ť
Democrats also sought to turn attention to presumed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who as Massachusetts governor instituted a healthcare overhaul quite similar to the federal law.
â€śObamacare is Romneycare,â€ť Levin said, as an aide passed out a series of prior statements by Romney defending the individual mandate.
The one Democratic witness, former solicitor general Walter Dellinger, said the ruling based on the taxing power of Congress was unremarkable.
â€śI have always been struck that this modest incentive … is being seen as the end of liberty as we know it,â€ť Dellinger said, likening the health care mandate to Social Security, among other popular programs.