|Posted by richardmoore on July 13, 2012 at 11:20 AM|
By Richard Moore
From The Lakeland Times
The nation’s Affordable Care Act may contain what the U.S. Supreme Court now calls a tax for not buying health insurance, but Republicans say that’s not the only tax embedded in the health-care law – the total could be as much as $800 billion over a decade, they say – and they are vowing to fight them, especially those on religious institutions.
This week, GOP Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner joined with Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) as a lead cosponsor of the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act, which would prevent the Obama administration from taxing religious institutions that refuse on religious grounds to follow a mandate requiring employers to provide drugs and services in their employee health-care plans.
The bill has 57 cosponsors. Wisconsin Republican Rep. Tom Petri also spoke up in support of the legislation.
“Obamacare gives the federal government the tools to tax religiously-affiliated schools, hospitals, universities and soup kitchens right out of existence,” Sensenbrenner said at a news conference announcing the bill introduction. “This is the question facing religious institutions and concerned employers today: will you violate your conscience and religious beliefs or pay a hefty tax to follow your faith?”
The issue had burned into open political fields after the administration issued the so-called contraceptive rule earlier this year but has only smoldered since, as the debate over the individual health-insurance mandate raged. But, the charges are still there, Sensenbrenner said, and they are onerous.
“Those taxes are severe, they are confiscatory,” Sensenbrenner said at the press conference. “It is $100 per employee per day. So, a religious institution that, say, has a church and an elementary school beside it that employs 50 employees total, which include the administrative and maintenance personnel, ends up being taxed $36,500 per employee per year. Or the 50-employee institution would have to pay a tax of $1,825,000 per year, every year.”
Sensenbrenner said such a huge tax would force religious institutions, including parochial schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, and universities, to choose between violating their faith to keep their doors open or paying a potentially devastating tax that would force them to close. And that, he said, was a catch-22.
“Our religious liberties are not bartering chips,” he said. “Let’s not treat them that way. This bill protects religious freedom from this massive infringement and attack.”
Specifically, the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act of 2012 would allow employers that do not wish to offer specific preventive services in their health care plans because they conflict with their religious beliefs or moral convictions to decline to do so, without paying taxes, penalties, or enforcement actions for their non-compliance with the HHS mandate.
However, the bill does not eliminate any of the current preventive services included in the Essential Health Benefits.
At press time, many religious groups that had opposed the mandate were not commenting publicly on the bill, saying they had not had time to digest it. Privately, though, some were saying the legislation was a bad idea because it removed the penalty for violating the mandate but left the mandate itself intact. That would incentivize Congress to do nothing more, some suggested.
Talk, but no walk
For his part, Petri says supporters of the mandate talk a lot about tolerance but aren’t very tolerant when it comes to religious freedom.
“Many people on the other side of this argument pride themselves for what they consider to be their tolerance of different views,” Petri said. “But here we have an Obama dictate which is a poke in the eye and a punch to the gut for many people of faith. It’s a demand that religious leaders and others be forced to facilitate services they consider gravely immoral. ... It boggles the mind that the president and his administration could so cavalierly trample on the religious rights of our citizens. It’s a radical stance in violation of the First Amendment, and it must be reversed.”
Sensenbrenner said the very existence of religious-based institutions was at stake.
“Obviously, if these taxes are levied and they are enforced, there will be no religious-affiliated institutions left in this country,” he said. “Religious-affiliated institutions, I think, have been one of the ways that there has been diversity provided in education, in health care, and in various types of social services. I don’t think they should be taxed out of business, and neither do my cosponsors.”
Another go at health-care repeal
This past week, as the full House prepared to vote symbolically again to repeal the entire health-care law – a vote was set for Wednesday, and it was expected to pass – Petri took to the House floor to say the law would fuel increases in health-care costs, and tamp down job-creation efforts.
“I support health care reform which ensures that all Americans have access to affordable coverage,” Petri said. “However, I believe the health care law is fundamentally flawed in its approach and will only make worse our skyrocketing health care costs and federal deficits.”
Petri said one study last month found that the cost of health-care services is expected to rise 7.5 percent in 2013.
“I am also very concerned about the law’s negative effects on job creation,” he said. “ I have met with hundreds of employers in my district and hear constantly how the mandates and uncertainty created by the law are discouraging hiring.”
The congressman said a report issued last September by the investment research firm UBS asserted that the health care law was “arguably the biggest impediment to hiring.”
“We need the right reforms to eliminate waste throughout the system and reward high-quality, low-cost care,” he said. “We should be choosing approaches which give consumers incentives to use their health-care dollars wisely. Instead, we are going in the opposite direction by turning decisions over to the government.”
The U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, citing the Congressional Budget Office, says the full law will cost taxpayers $2.6 trillion over 10 years, and raise taxes by $525 billion. Add to that latter figure the cost of the individual-mandate tax and Republicans such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio say total tax increases could reach $800 billion.