That September, Hillary Clinton announced a plan that did put "everybody in." As the Associated Press reported in its lede, "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's sweeping health-care proposal, which she plans to unveil today, would require every American to carry health insurance and offer federal subsidies to help reduce the cost of coverage." It was Clinton and Edwards against Obama on the propriety of the state forcing people to buy health insurance.
In the Jan. 21, 2008, presidential primary debate in South Carolina, Edwards criticized Obama's plan for its lack of a mandate. Obama responded, "A mandate means that in some fashion, everybody will be forced to buy health insurance." Instead of going that route, his plan, he said, "emphasizes lowering costs."
Obama held that position throughout the campaign. Elect Hillary, he said, and the government will compel you to buy health insurance. Elect me, and I'll give you lower costs and let you keep your freedom.
One Obama TV ad drove the point home: "Hillary Clinton's attacking, but what's she not telling you about her health care plan? It forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it, and you pay a penalty if you don't."
The American people voted for a candidate who strongly opposed an individual mandate, but got a president who strongly favored one.
Obama's strong objection to the government forcing people to buy insurance in order to get to universal coverage vanished six months into his presidency. In July of 2009, he came out in favor of a mandate, claiming that he had changed his mind.
Either Obama was suddenly persuaded that such a sweeping use of government power was necessary, or he had believed it all along and only took the other side because it would position him better politically. Either way, the American people voted for a candidate who strongly opposed an individual mandate, but got a president who strongly favored one and, it turned out, would make enacting health-coverage reforms that included a mandate his top legislative goal.
Had Obama maintained his stated opposition to a mandate, we would not have one today. But thanks to his post-election reversal from strong opponent of mandates to a passionate advocate of them, a policy the American people do not support now has been imposed upon them. Not incidentally, the same scenario played out in the Supreme Court, resulting in the mandate being upheld.
During debate on the Affordable Care Act, Republicans tried to call the mandate's penalty provision a tax. The bill stated (and the law now states) that those who do not buy health insurance must pay a "penalty" to the IRS. When Republicans labeled it a tax, Obama strongly objected.
In a famous 2009 interview with George Stephanopoulos, Obama said: "For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance, is absolutely not a tax increase. What's it's saying is that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you."