Stephanopoulos Blinked

Rarely do the press actually ask President Obama any hard questions, but yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” George Stephanopoulos actually did.  He challenged President Obama’s support of the individual mandate within health reform legislation as a tax.  Obama was having none of it.  Here’s a relevant part of the transcript.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That may be, but it’s still a tax increase.

OBAMA: No. That’s not true, George. The — for us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. What it’s saying is, is that we’re not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you anymore than the fact that right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase.

People say to themselves, that is a fair way to make sure that if you hit my car, that I’m not covering all the costs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it may be fair, it may be good public policy…

OBAMA: No, but — but, George, you — you can’t just make up that language and decide that that’s called a tax increase. Any…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Here’s the…

OBAMA: What — what — if I — if I say that right now your premiums are going to be going up by 5 or 8 or 10 percent next year and you say well, that’s not a tax increase; but, on the other hand, if I say that I don’t want to have to pay for you not carrying coverage even after I give you tax credits that make it affordable, then…

STEPHANOPOULOS: I — I don’t think I’m making it up. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary: Tax — “a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes.”

OBAMA: George, the fact that you looked up Merriam’s Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you’re stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition. I mean what…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no, but…

OBAMA: …what you’re saying is…

STEPHANOPOULOS: I wanted to check for myself. But your critics say it is a tax increase.

OBAMA: My critics say everything is a tax increase. My critics say that I’m taking over every sector of the economy. You know that.

Look, we can have a legitimate debate about whether or not we’re going to have an individual mandate or not, but…

It most certainty is a tax increase.  “The Wall Street Journal” has a good analysis of this, but rather than follow through Stephanopoulos pulled his punch.  The key part of the exchange was here:

OBAMA: George, you — you can’t just make up that language and decide that that’s called a tax increase.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I — I don’t think I’m making it up. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary: Tax — “a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes.”

OBAMA: George, the fact that you looked up Merriam’s Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you’re stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition.

At this point, Stephanopoulos should have said: “No, Mr. President.  The fact that I looked it up indicates that I am not just ‘making up the language,’ as you said,  but that I am using the word correctly.”  Instead Stephanopoulos blinked and put it off on Obama’s critics and gave the President an out that allowed him to once again mischaracterize his political opponents.

Related Stories: Obama’s Media Offensive, Karl Rove, “The Washington Post”

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