Pants-on-fire award: “Pelosi wants to put you in jail for not buying health insurance”

In which a stupid lie is traced back to its source.

I heard one of Boehner’s Buffoons yelling about this on the floor of the House yesterday and I couldn’t figure out what he thought he was trying to say.  Now I know, and it’s one of those you-can’t-figure-out-whether-to-laugh-or-cry deals.

Here’s the reasoning, if I may use that term loosely:

1.  The House bill imposes a surtax of 2.5% of income, up to a maximum of $2500 on incomes of $100,000 or more, for failing to maintain health insurance.   (There are “hardship” exemptions for those who can’t find affordable insurance, under some definition of affordability.)

2.  Willful refusal to pay federal taxes is punishable both civilly and criminally.  (“Willful” means that you can’t be put in jail for not having enough money to pay your taxes, only for refusing to pay them although you could.)

3.  Therefore, someone who refuses to get insurance and then deliberately refuses to pay the tax surcharge could, in an extreme case, face jail:  just like someone who refuses to pay any other federal tax.

4.  So Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi want to put you in jail for not buying health insurance.

Dave Camp, a Republican member of the Ways & Means Committee, put out a press release with the headine:

PELOSI: Buy a $15,000 Policy or Go to Jail

Ann Althouse linked to the press release, writing:

“Buy a $15,000 Policy or Go to Jail”

Is this what the Democrats mean to inflict on the unsuspecting public that believes it is getting health care? What chaos lies ahead?

And Glenn Reynolds simply removed the quotation marks:

BUY A $15,000 POLICY, or go to jail.

Two questions here:

1.  Are Camp, Althouse, and Reynolds stupid, or do they think their readers are, or are they simply too blinded by hatred to care?  Camp is on Ways & Means, and Althouse and Reynolds are lawyers, so it’s hard to imagine that any of them might be sincere.  It’s possible that Althouse and Reynolds didn’t bother to read past Camp’s headline and thought that there really was a jail provision in the bill, but that would have required a remarkable feat of credulity.

2.  If the opponents of health insurance reform thought they had any valid arguments, why would they bother with such transparently false ones?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

17 thoughts on “Pants-on-fire award: “Pelosi wants to put you in jail for not buying health insurance””

  1. Really no sensationalist media this time, just a lying Congressman and a couple of liars/useful idiots writing right-wing blogs.

  2. Has Congress no vehicle for calling such Members on the carpet? If they have time for sports talk, surely there's time for disciplinary actions.

  3. "Are Camp, Althouse, and Reynolds stupid, or do they think their readers are, or are they simply too blinded by hatred to care?"

    I don't see a dichotomy.

  4. Yes, the Republicans should point out that if they can't afford health insurance the Democrats want to subject them to the fine and penalties that everyone outside the Obama administration is ordinarily subject to.

    Mark, I think Michael Steele may have a job for you.

  5. "Althouse and Reynolds are lawyers, so it’s hard to imagine that any of them might be sincere. "

    That's been the case since at least 2002, and definitely since the roll-out of the Iraq War marketing campaign.

  6. Personally, I oppose the health care reform bills because I think the fed gov will be biting off far more than it can chew and the possibility that premiums will increase in the short run seems like a real one. But when I see these sorts of arguments, not to mention the Chamber of Commerce ads and those ads where senior citizens on the verge of tears urge us to oppose health care reform to "save Medicare", I almost want health care reform to succeed.

  7. "Are Camp, Althouse, and Reynolds stupid, or do they think their readers are, or are they simply too blinded by hatred to care?"


  8. Floyd, let's assume for the sake of argument that you're right that "the fed gov will be biting off far more than it can chew and … that premiums will increase in the short run." Would that be worse than 45,000 deaths per year?

  9. To chime in with KLG and Michael Drake,

    Are Camp, Althouse, and Reynolds stupid, or do they think their readers are, or are they simply too blinded by hatred to care?

    How can we distinguish among the alternatives with the available data?

  10. Even though people are not actually going to be sent to jail (which I agree with Prof. Kleiman is hyperbolic), it is actually quite valid to criticize ANY legal requirement that as a condition of merely existing (not driving or engaging in some other activity), we have to give any of our money to some of the most rapacious businesses on the planet, with the government punishing us (even if it's just a fine) if we don't.

    This is a right-wing idea, it was a right-wing idea when John Chafee proposed it, it was a right-wing idea when Mitt Romney passed it, and it was a right-wing idea when the Governator tried to enact it in California. Not being able to afford health insurance, or not wanting to pay an evil private corporation to provide it (knowing that said corporation will make every attempt possible to deny you coverage if you seek to use it), is not a wrongful act that the government should punish. Health insurance is something that the state should provide to each of us, not something that we should be forced to purchase from the private sector.

    So if they'd just ratchet it down one level from "you will go to jail" to "the government will punish you for not buying health insurance", I'd have no problem with the attack. The individual mandate is obnoxious and should be scrapped, we should move to a single payer system or the government should purchase executive level private health insurance (i.e., no deductibles, co-payments, or denials of coverage) for everyone.

  11. Henry: But the problem with throwing out numbers like 45,000 deaths caused by the failure to pass health care reform is that you end up playing at the Chamber of Commerce's end of the field. They have no shortage of parade-of-horrible projection numbers of unemployed, people thrown out of their current coverage, etc. While I don't believe these, I don't really trust the arguments on the pro side either. There seem to be too many assumptions based on too little data. What I know all too well from looking at my own financial data is that I already pay over $15K a year (admittedly, pre-tax) for health insurance and I can't afford to pay much more. I'm not willing to pay another $4K or lose coverage for which I work pretty hard on the basis of promises on which the government may not be able to deliver regarding the provision of coverage to the working poor. That's the essential problem with the health care debate that the pro forces have never really addressed. They seem to have assumed that because the anti forces are so hysterical, any anti-reform argument is unreasonable. But health insurance costs increase more than inflation every year. It's not unreasonable to be concerned that this new plan will lead to further, greater increases. Especially if we're still letting the insurers have their anti-trust exemption.

  12. You either buy it yourself, or you give the government money to buy it on your behalf, or you go to jail. Seems to me you're just getting a choice of how to buy it, if you want to avoid jail. So I'd have to say, the charge is fundamentally correct: Part with money for health care, or go to jail.

    I've said it before, I'll say it again: The only thing government has to bring to the solution of any problem, that's not available in the private sector, is coercion. Violence, and threats of violence. It was inescapable that, once you decided to get the government more involved in providing health care, threats of violence would be involved. That's the government's "hammer", and when did the government ever admit something it was dealing with wasn't a "nail"?

    Essentially, you've picked up this big club to get something you want done, and you're complaining that the other side is pointing at it. If you weren't comfortable with people noticing the club, you should have left it alone.

  13. Brett is correct, in all universes in which $2500=$15,000. In our universe, he's wrong, and Capp, Althouse, and Reynolds are come combination of fools and scoundrels.

  14. Well, at least we're debating the size of the nails the club is studded with, and not whether or not there IS a club being waved about. That's an advance in the honesty of the argument.

  15. Only a minuscule fraction of those who don't pay the federal taxes which are due from them — even those who deliberately fail or refuse to pay — ever "go to jail" or even face a threat of going to jail, that is, of criminal prosecution. Fear of prosecution (that is, general deterrence) is probably a major incentive for tax compliance, but it is mostly based on very little real threat. Many tax evaders avoid detection, and those who are caught are almost all dealt with administratively, through the addition of penalties and interest, or at worst through forced collection.

  16. I'm waiting for Brett, Capp, Althouse and Reynolds to trumpet the headline, "Support killing Iraqi children or go to jail." It would be an advance in the honesty of the argument.

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