US expats in Israel and Obamacare

This column was originally published in Israel Hayom.

Americans abroad, take note: If the mandate is upheld, there is nothing to stop the American government from applying it to you, too–including fines/taxes up to $1,900 per family per year–regardless of whether you are involved in the U.S. economy in any way, simply by virtue of your citizenship.

And now, we wait for the decision. After an unprecedented three full days of arcane Supreme Court oral arguments on constitutional law, to which Americans of all stripes paid unusually rapt attention, the nine justices must deliberate and draft their opinions on the legality of the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as “Obamacare.” American citizens residing in Israel should take heed, for the decision could have far-reaching consequences for all Americans abroad maintaining their citizenship.
The primary issue facing the Supreme Court concerns the constitutionality of the Orwellian-named “Individual Responsibility Requirement,” which obligates every citizen to purchase government-approved health insurance. Under this Obamacare mandate, which underpins the financing of the entire plan, failure to procure such insurance would result in a substantial fine levied by the Internal Revenue Service — .
However, the very essence of America’s founding (uniting the individual states) was agreeing to the principle that the federal government’s power is not boundless, but is limited and enumerated by its constitution. In the immortal words of President Ronald Reagan, “We are a nation that has a government — not the other way around.” The relationship between American citizens and their government would be fundamentally altered by a legal requirement to purchase any product or service, which would also erase the limitations placed on the federal government’s coercive power.
It is unclear where the Obama administration finds the constitutional precedent or authority to command any citizen to purchase any product or service. In 2008, President Barack Obama himself mocked the validity of such a mandate when his then-opponent Hillary Clinton proposed something similar: “I mean, if a mandate was a solution, we could try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody buy a house.” Yet, political expediencies demand he support the mandate for Obamacare. With four liberal justices seemingly committed to upholding it, the mandate may survive the challenge to its constitutionality.
Americans residing in Israel can be forgiven if they view this as a purely academic argument, albeit one threatening America’s limping economy, as cost estimates have doubled since the bill was passed. After all, we here are already insured in the Israeli system, and overwhelmingly aren’t even part of any U.S. insurance or healthcare market. But, Americans abroad, take note: If the mandate is upheld, there is nothing to stop the American government from applying it to you, too — regardless of whether you are involved in the U.S. economy in any way, simply by virtue of your citizenship.
Sound far-fetched? On the contrary, exactly such a provision was buried in several drafts of the 2,700-page Obamacare bill. It provided that even Americans abroad would be hit with that $1,900-per-family penalty — a figure that could increase down the road — even if they never set foot on U.S. soil or have coverage in other countries. In the final version, it was left out; but if the mandate is upheld as constitutional, what is to stop that provision from being reinstated, extending its reach to citizens abroad?
The I.R.S. estimates it will hire an additional 16,000 agents to enforce the implementation of Obamacare, which already includes 17 new taxes on everything from payrolls to prescription drugs to medical devices to tanning salons; they will be looking for money from every source they can find. One obvious source would be the estimated 300,000 U.S. citizens living in Israel, and 6 million more living elsewhere in the world. With Obamacare set to launch our deficits into ever-higher celestial spheres, why wouldn’t this administration, already looking to raise taxes everywhere it can, grab at those untapped additional billions of dollars in potential revenue?
How many Americans in Israel would be able to afford that penalty for themselves and their family members? How many would be faced with the painful, drastic choice of paying the penalty or renouncing their U.S. citizenship?
And for the hardened cynics among you, consider this: Large-scale renunciation of citizenship by Americans in Israel would not be an unwelcome development in the eyes of this administration. Keep in mind that Israel-based Americans vote at dramatically higher rates than other expat communities — and increasingly vote Republican. In 2008, Americans living in Israel voted Republican by a 76–24 percent margin, and there is every indication that President Obama would fare even worse this time around. Non-citizens would no longer be pesky constituents, and could no longer make campaign contributions. So, sticking Israel-based Americans with a choice of a $1,900-per-family penalty or a loss of citizenship could be viewed as a win-win for the Obama team.
This administration has promoted other measures that tip the voter balance in its favor, including suing states for enforcing immigration laws, blocking state laws requiring voters to present photo identification, and enabling back-door amnesty for illegal immigrants. Does anyone believe the administration is above suppressing the vote from Israel?
One way or another, the mandate, if upheld, may prove costly to Americans abroad.
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