"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."Andrew Sabl claims that Obamacare is not a mandate:
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
“If you or your family aren’t getting health insurance through your job, the government will pay to get you private insurance coverage, just as an employer would. You’ll have to contribute something—but the law guarantees, with specific numbers, that it will be no more than you can afford. It’ll be less than three percent of your paycheck if your family makes $33,000 a year, less than ten percent if you make as much as $88,000. Pre-existing conditions won’t matter. The government will still pay for your insurance, with the same affordable contribution from you.”
This is just nonsense on stilts. Set aside the question of whether an insurance policy costing up to 10% of your income is "affordable." If the government orders you to buy X, it is still a mandate even if the government pays part of the cost. "To mandate something means to make it mandatory." The fact that part of the cost of the mandate will be picked up doesn't change the mandatory nature of the obligation.
Compare the terminology used when the federal government mandates that states provide certain benefits. This is an example of the well-known (although actually rare) "unfunded mandate." When the federal government pays part of the cost of providing the benefit, that's called a partially funded mandate. See, e.g., Edward A. Zelinsky, Unfunded Mandates, Hidden Taxation, and the Tenth Amendment: On Public Choice, Public Interest, and Public Services, 46 VAND.L.REV. 1355, 1378 (1993). And it's still a mandate.
Update: Kevin Drum doesn't think Sabl's framing is going to work: