Now that President Obama has finally submitted legislative text for his jobs bill to Congress, some of the unpleasant details are coming to light. One such detail is that one of the provisions to raise revenue for the bill would be to limit the tax break on employer-provided health insurance for high-income earners.
That Obama included this specific measure in the bill is noteworthy for a few reasons. Obama demagogued the inclusion of a similar (and broader) reform when it was part of Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign plan for reforming the health care system, even though most health care analysts agree that the tax preference for employer-provided health insurance generates excessive consumption of health care and introduces distortions to the market. During a debate, Obama called McCain’s plan to curb the tax break “radical,” “the biggest middle-class tax increase in history,” and “out of line with our basic values.” Now, apparently, he too is tired of being in line with our basic values.
Furthermore, as part of the Affordable Care Act, Obama enacted the “Cadillac tax” — an excise tax on expensive, generous health insurance plans made to exploit the tax loophole — in order to fix the same distortion the McCain plan addressed. The Cadillac tax was meant to dissuade employers from offering such expensive plans by the time it came into effect in 2018 (and, ostensibly, to raise revenues to pay for the health care bill). But limiting the tax break for employer-provided health insurance for those same high-income groups before 2018 would seem to make the Cadillac tax redundant.
This is just one more example of a near-complete turnaround by Obama. Tax reform that was once “radical” and immoral is now part of a bill that he told a joint session of Congress to pass immediately 15 times.