For purposes of assessing the 2012 presidential race, I’ve had a moderate interest in whether Mitt Romney would call the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate a penalty or a tax. On one hand, he’s consistently called a mandate to purchase health insurance a penalty, not a tax, in the past. On the other, self-contradiction has pretty much become Romney’s routine. This morning, Ezra Klein convinced me not to care:
“Tax” is not a popular word. But neither is “penalty.” It’s very difficult to imagine the voter who loved the idea of paying a penalty for going without health insurance — aren’t penalties great? — but is morally appalled at the prospect of paying a tax.
And, remember, the individual mandate is a well-known policy that is already extremely unpopular. In fact, it’s the most unpopular provision of the health care law, and always has been. The people who don’t like it already know they don’t like it. The people who do like it are, at this point, well aware that they like it. The idea that, this late in the game, even one vote will be decided by whether Republicans call this already-disliked policy “a tax” rather than “a penalty” or “government coercion” or “jackbooted thugs making you buy health care” strains credulity.
For whatever it’s worth, the Romney camp predictably went from calling the mandate a penalty to calling it a tax at some point between the weekend and yesterday, but, again, it’s probably not something you should spend your time reading or thinking about.