Did Obama’s OMB Director Just Undercut His Supreme Court Argument?

Published February 16, 2012

In an appearance yesterday before the House Budget Committee, The White House’s acting Office of Management and Budget Director, Jeff Zients, repeated the administration’s claim that its latest budget includes no tax increases on families making less than $250,000, or individuals making less than $200,000. This is a longtime campaign promise from President Obama, and a standard line to reference in testimony.

Unfortunately for Zients, by making this statement, he walked into a trap from Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey, who pointed out a potential conflict with the individual mandate contained within Obamacare. The administration, remember, has been arguing in the Courts that the power to collect the fines from those who ignore the mandate is given under the taxing powers of the Constitution. But they’ve been arguing that while also claiming there are no tax increases within Obama’s law.

Here’s a transcript of what came next, and here’s a link to the video.

Congressman Scott Garrett:  “Thank you and I appreciate your testimony today. I appreciate you also being here from the private sector. You probably feel a little lonely sometime over at the White House in that respect. But I’m glad that you’re here, coming with that experience. One point  though, you did just say there are no tax increases for those folks who are making under – “

Acting White House Budget Director Jeff Zients:  “$250,000. “

Rep. Garrett:  “– $250,000.”

Zeints:  “Families under $250,000. Individuals under 200k.”

Rep. Garrett:  “So if I am part of a family that does not buy health insurance in violation of the President’s health care program and I got to pay because of that, that is not a tax incre – that is not a tax on me?”

Zeints:  “The Affordable Care Act saves money.”

Rep. Garrett:  “I understand that, but is that a tax on me then if I do not pay that, or is that not a tax?”

Zeints:  “I’m not sure I’m following the question.”

Rep. Garrett:  “You said there’s no tax increases on people who make under $250,000. If I make under $250,000 and I do not buy health insurance as I’m required to under the Affordable Healthcare Act , is that a tax on me or is that not a tax on me?”

Zeints: “Well this is –”

Rep. Garrett: “A moment ago you said there’s no tax increase.”

Zeints: “There aren’t.”                                                                                     

Rep. Garrett: “So that’s not a tax?”

Zeints:  “No.”

Rep. Garrett:  “That’s not a tax. Okay. I just want to be clear on that because that’s not the argument the administration is making before the Supreme Court.”

In Washington, the definition of a gaffe is when you accidentally say something true. Zeints may have just done that, and in so doing once again undermined the case of the White House that they have any power to levy an individual mandate. They can’t have it both ways.