According to legend, Shi Huangdi, the first Emperor of China, was obsessed with immortality. He couldn’t conceive of a world deprived of his imperial presence. Consequently, his minions scoured the world in search of the elixir of immortality. Unfortunately for the Emperor, the elixir was never found. He died while on a journey two months distant from his capitol. His courtiers feared that news of the Emperor’s death would spark unrest throughout the empire. They hatched a plan to conceal Shi Huangdi death until they returned to the capitol to see a new emperor safely enthroned.
Problem was, on a two-month return trip, the Emperor’s body was bound to “ripen.” Someone was apt to suspect the truth. These devious courtiers came up with a crafty device to keep the Emperor’s subjects in the dark. They loaded two carts with rotting fish; one before the royal convoy, the other at the rear. The stench of these decoys overpowered the decaying remains of Shi Huangdi. The deceit worked. By the time the truth emerged, the new regime was in place and the oppressed subjects were stuck with it.
The moral of the story is this: If the emperor’s caravan smells like a load of rotting fish, somebody’s hiding something.
This story was on my mind this week as I followed the news coverage of the Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of “The Affordable Health Care Act” — also known as “AHA” or “Obamacare.”
By now, the nation knows the court determined Obamacare is a constitutional exercise of congressional taxing authority.
In the president’s post-decision remarks, he encouraged all Americans to let bygones be bygones. He urged us all to resist the temptation to “rehash” the debates leading up to the statute’s passage. He assured us we would all look back in years to come and be thankful for this groundbreaking legislation.
But here’s the problem. Something still smells funny and the president, so far, has done nothing to clear the air. The original legislative package was deceptively portrayed by the president and his courtiers. In fairness, now that the truth about the content is exposed, shouldn’t we take another look? Or are we, like Shi Huangdi’s disgusted subjects, stuck with it?
The American public was told — unequivocally — that Obamacare was not a tax increase. In an interview on nationwide television, President Obama insisted, somewhat angrily, that “I absolutely reject that notion.” He insisted again and again in interviews and addresses to Congress that he wouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class by “one dime.” In the public campaign leading up to the legislative vote, the White House website proclaimed “What President Obama is proposing is not a tax, but a requirement to comply with the law … .” When Jeff Zients, then acting White House budget director, appeared before Congress, he was asked whether the president’s proposed legislation was a tax. He replied “No.”
When Health and Human Services Secretary Sibelius appeared before Congress, she was asked to explain the administration’s position as there were conflicting signals coming from the White House. She responded by saying “It operates in the same way as a tax would operate, but it is not, per se, a tax.”
But in the course of litigation over the constitutionality of the act, the Obama administration took both positions — “It is a tax, it isn’t a tax.” Justice Samuel Alito seemed to indicate some frustration with the plastic nature of the administration’s position by observing, “Today you are arguing that the penalty is not a tax … . Tomorrow you’re going to be back and you’ll be arguing that the penalty is a tax.”
Now we know. It is, undeniably, a tax. In fact, with all the figuring and refiguring concerning the ultimate cost of Obamacare, this may turn out to be one of the largest tax increases in the history of this nation.
Ordinarily, once the Supreme Court has spoken, the litigated issue is put to rest — at least temporarily. In this case, however, the American taxpayer is the victim of one of the most blatant “bait and switch” schemes in history. No one has a crystal ball, of course, but it is highly unlikely this act would have passed if those legislators voting for it had come clean with their constituents.
Luckily, our system works. The Supreme Court has thrown the issue back in the lap of the voting public. As we approach the upcoming election, we have clear choices. Will we call the deceivers to account? Or will we shrug it off as business as usual? Personally, I could use some fresh air. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is an Edmond resident and retired attorney.