If Barack Obama is looking for a shortcut to a one-term presidency, taxing health care benefits is it. Yet Obama aides are now signaling his willingness to do just that. They would use the trillions in new tax revenue to pay for health care coverage for the 46 million Americans who don’t have any.

While universal coverage is an admirable goal, the solution isn’t to more heavily tax the three-fifths of Americans under age 65 who are already struggling to pay for their own coverage.

Sunday, Obama adviser David Axelrod appeared on ABC’s “This Week” where he declined to rule out extending the personal income tax to health care benefits. “One of the problems we’ve had in this town is that people draw lines in the sand and they stop talking to each other, and you don’t get anything done.”

That’s true, but Obama has already drawn his line in the sand. During last year’s presidential campaign, he repeatedly denounced Sen. John McCain’s proposal to tax employer-provided health care benefits as “the largest middle-class tax increase in history.”

McCain’s own dubious plan was to tax the benefits, then give the money back to people to buy their own health care. Unfortunately, that idea would only have swelled the rolls of Americans left at the mercy of big insurance companies trying to buy exhorbitantly costly individual health care policies.

The numbers at stake here are not small. An employer may be spending $4,000-$10,000 per year for an employee’s family health care policy. The idea Obama is now considering would add that to your taxable income.


So, in addition to paying for your own co-pays and deductibles, in addition to paying a share for Medicare and Medicaid coverage, wage-earning Americans would pay to cover those who are not covered.

There are two reasons many hard-working Americans don’t have health care — their employers don’t offer it and they can’t afford to buy it.

Obama and America would be better served by tackling this problem from either of those angles. First, we need to figure out why we pay more than any nation on Earth for health care outcomes that are mediocre at best. Second, we should enable, entice or otherwise force more employers to obtain coverage for their employees.

Obama also drew another line in the sand during the campaign, which he called a “firm pledge.” He said families making under $250,000 would not see “any form of tax increase, not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”

By taxing health care benefits, Obama would not only erase his promise — his line in the sand — but reveal his promises to be built upon nothing more than shifting sand.


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