We were wondering earlier today how Team Obama was going to handle the tax/not tax dilemma, and it seems that they are settling on something akin to "we don't really care what Roberts said, it's still not a tax":
"You can call it what you want,” Carney told reporters en route to Colorado where the president was to view the battle against raging wildfires. “If you read the opinion, it is not a broad-based tax. It affects one percent, by CBO estimates, of the population.” Pressed on whether that 1 percent will be paying a tax or a penalty, he responded, “It’s a penalty because you have a choice. You don’t a have a choice to pay your taxes. You have a choice. If you can afford health insurance, if you don’t buy it."
So, if you can choose whether or not to pay it, that means it's not a tax? What about sales tax? You only have to pay that if you choose to purchase certain products. Likewise, nobody forces you to buy and then sell stocks and pay a capital gains tax, but it's still a "tax."
Ultimately, there is no "right" answer to the question of penalty versus tax. And it's funny, because, regardless of what label is used, the actual thing you have to pay is still the same. It's all about optics, and perception, and the visceral revulsion people have to the word tax but not the word penalty. But this is the kind of
fun suicide-inducing semantics argument we can look forward to for the next few months.