NY Times: White House Offering Unspecified Exemptions To Obamacare Tax Penalty

February 2nd, 2015

The New York Times reports on the “political firestorm” that will erupt when 6 million people are required to pay the inaugural Obamacare tax penalty. (Remember when the President waived it for everyone last year?). Apparently, many have been exempted, and even more will be exempted.

Obama administration officials and other supporters of the Affordable Care Act say they worry that the tax-filing season will generate new anger as uninsured consumers learn that they must pay tax penalties and as many people struggle with complex forms needed to justify tax credits they received in 2014 to pay for health insurance.

The White House has already granted some exemptions and is considering more to avoid a political firestorm.

Mark J. Mazur, the assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, said up to six million taxpayers would have to “pay a fee this year because they made a choice not to obtain health care coverage that they could have afforded.” …

Federal officials have authorized more than 30 types of exemptions from the penalty for not having insurance. One is for low-income people who live in states that did not expand Medicaid. Another is available to people who would have to pay premiums amounting to more than 8 percent of their household income. The government will also allow a variety of hardship exemptions and in most cases will require taxpayers to send in documents as evidence of hardship.

What are these new exemptions and how are they being issued? The article does not explain. There is no indication of what these waivers from the law are. There isn’t even a discussion of whether these exemptions are lawful. It’s as if this is not a fact worthy of reporting.

I don’t mean to pile onto the Times, but I fear that this is the new normal in the separation of powers. In class recently, I asked a student what should the President have done during the Fall of 2013 as millions of policies were being cancelled as a result of Obamacare. The student, sincerely, said “issue an executive order.” That was his first thought. I asked a follow-up: How can the President change the law. It took several follow-ups for another student to say, “Ask Congress to change the law?” Yes!

It is remarkable that people today do not think of Congress changing laws as the first option. Much of the blame falls with Congress, which hasn’t enacted different laws–but the President bears an even greater share of the blame for taking matters into his own hands in the face of this gridlock. Congress may have a civic duty to pass laws, but has no constitutional obligation to do so. The President, on the other hand, has a constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws Congress enacts.

The havoc the current legal culture breeds is in distorting how the citizenry think about the separation of powers. The Saturday Nigh Light skit about how a Bill becomes a law (Executive Order!) is a testament to this fact. This is one of the scariest aspects of the current legal regime–an entire generation will grow up thinking an executive order to bypass a uncooperative Congress is the way to go.