Aspen, Colo. — A quickly assembled panel on Thursday's Supreme Court decisionupholding the healthcare reform law quickly reached a consensus: The court rightly determined that the individual mandate was a tax despite the Obama administration's insistence that it was not such thing. What's more, the panel agreed that the Obama administration's position was cynical and politically manipulative.
The panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival consisted of former Congressman Vin Weber, New York Times columnist David Brooks, columnist Joe Klein and former Senator Tom Daschle.
"They didn't want to be accused of raising taxes, so they moved to the commerce clause," Daschle said.
"The president is now going to have to explain why he raised taxes when he said he wouldn't," Weber said.
The audience had a bit of discomfort with this line of reasoning, at one point booing Weber. Klein had to step in and protest that Weber's analysis was essentially correct. The only real difference between Weber and Daschle's point is that Daschle seemed to approve of the deception while Weber did not.
There's good reason to worry about the Obama administration's tactics and the Supreme Court's reasoning upholding the law. The constitution sets out very specific rules about the origins of tax bills. Allowing a provision of the law to be considered as a tax ex-post facto arguably allows Congress and the President to skirt constitutional accountability for raising taxes. The elected branches avoid taking an unpopular stance in favor of taxes, leaving the unelected branch to call it a tax.
The structure of the constitution is designed to prevent this underhandedness. Thursday's decision undermines those structural protections.
-By CNBC's John Carney