"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:
There is no answer. Except the one Humpty Dumpty gave.
- For better or worse, the term "individual mandate" has been commonly accepted for years. Trying to change it now isn't likely to be any more successful than Republican attempts to cynically change "private accounts" to "personal accounts" when the former started polling badly.
- We still have a problem: what do we actually call the policy formerly known as an individual mandate? Andy has provided an explanation for how the overall program works, but not a name for that specific piece of the puzzle. People are going to write about the fact that everyone is required to get coverage whether we like it or not, so there has to be something to call it.
- In real life, how would this work? Once we reel off Andy's paragraph, the next question from the Fox News anchor interviewing you is still going to be, "But it's not voluntary, is it? You have to get insurance whether you like it or not, right?" What's the answer?