Health care ruling incites duel between big-name governors

  • Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana addresses activists from America's political right at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite

    (CBS News) Some of the nation's most prominent governors are starting to fight the newest battle in the war of the Affordable Care Act: Is the individual mandate a penalty or a tax?

    That was the subject of debate on competing press calls on Friday, in which GOP Govs. Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana echoed the Republican line that the law represented an enormous tax hike on middle-class Americans, and Democratic Govs. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and Martin O'Malley of Maryland, on a separate call, said it was a penalty.

    But Jindal, who along with the other governors has been mentioned as either a vice presidential candidate or possibility for 2016, committed what appeared to be a gaffe in briefly conflating the health care law with Mitt Romney's earlier effort in Massachusetts. "There's only one candidate, Gov. Romney, who's committed that he will repeal the Obamney - the Obamacare -- tax increase," Jindal said, echoing former GOP candidate Tim Pawlenty's pejorative phrase during his short-lived presidential bid.

    McDonnell and Jindal embraced the Supreme Court's assertion on Thursday that the individual mandate was constitutional only under Congress' powers of taxation, not through the Commerce clause. In addition to arguing the law is bad policy that will decrease the quality of care and add trillions to the national debt, they attempted to paint the law as a tax hike.

    "Make no mistake about it, this is a whopping tax on the citizens of the United States that are already suffering from too few jobs," McDonnell said on a call organized by the Republican National Committee.

    But O'Malley and Patrick tried to relegate the semantics to the sideline. "By whatever name, this is a solution, and the fact is President Obama has one and congressional Republicans and Mitt Romney do not," Patrick said on the Obama campaign's press call, after calling the tax-increase claim a "bizarre attack."

    Just for good measure, the Democratic governors insisted that the penalty -- which people must pay along with their taxes if they fail to purchase health insurance -- would only affect one to two percent of Americans. Other Democratic groups such as the liberal ThinkProgress have gone further, arguing that the law's tax credits for certain families actually make it a tax cut for many.

    If anything, the call showed how much the status quo remains unchanged in the face of the Court's ruling. Jindal said his state is refusing to begin the process of implementing the law, planning instead to run out the clock until (he hopes) Romney is elected along with a Republican Senate and repeals the law. McDonnell said his state is still considering whether to expand its Medicaid program. Neither seems to expect a repeal vote scheduled in the House for July 11 to go anywhere.

    The Democratic governors, O'Malley in particular, reveled in their court victory. Patrick embraced Romney's Massachusetts health care plan, talking about how valuable the law - and precursor to the Affordable Care Act, he said - had been for the state. O'Malley speculated that some of his fellow governors would rather leave the union than expand their Medicaid programs. And he couldn't resist taking a shot at McDonnell for another health care mandate that came up in the Virginia legislature this year: a bill requiring women to get an ultrasound before an abortion.

    "The only health care mandate they can embrace are trans-vaginal probes for women," O'Malley said.

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.