Outraged MSNBCer: ‘Is It Even Legal’ For Restaurant to Add ObamaCare Surcharge?

You reap what you sow. Most MSNBC hosts have excitedly touted ObamaCare over the past four years, despite warnings that the law would increase costs for businesses. Well, now we are beginning to see the natural consequences of what the health care law is doing to businesses, and at least one MSNBC host is upset by it.

On Saturday’s Weekends with Alex Witt, Ms. Witt was incensed that Gator’s Dockside, a Florida restaurant chain, has started charging its customers a one percent surcharge to help cover expected ObamaCare-related costs. Witt fumed, “[I]s it even legal to just add on a surcharge like that? I mean, it’s essentially a tax.” [See video below the break.]

First of all, yes, Alex, it is legal. Second, if it were a tax, it would be the wimpiest tax ever. People can just avoid it by simply not eating at Gator’s Dockside. There is no law to force people to pay the “tax” – unlike ObamaCare’s individual mandate, which forces Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty (which the Supreme Court cynically justified as a “tax”).

Witt’s guest, Josh Thomas of NBC’s Tampa affiliate, agreed that “[b]asically it is a tax.” He then snidely mocked the restaurant: 


One can ask the questions, well, why don’t you have a surcharge for the cost of electricity, or the cost of leasing out your business, or the cost of basically ordering the food that the people are going to eat?


The fact is that customers are already being charged for those things – but the cost is hidden in the menu price of the food. And that is likely how most businesses will deal with ObamaCare’s added costs. If businesses have to pay more to insure all of their full-time employees, they will most likely pass the cost on to customers in one form or another. Some might add a small surcharge like Gator’s Dockside did, but the vast majority will simply raise the prices of their goods and services. The customer pays more either way. At least the way Dockside is doing it helps educate voting-age patrons about the negative consequences of ObamaCare. (And not all Dockside locations are imposing the surcharge, by the way.)

Keep in mind that Witt is also an ardent supporter of increasing the minimum wage, yet another measure that would increase costs for businesses -- including restaurants -- and force them to raise their prices. She just doesn’t seem to care about businesses at all. There are some companies that could probably stomach the costs of ObamaCare or a minimum wage hike without raising prices, but restaurants, with their typically low profit margins, are not among them.

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/images/cleardot.gifAlex Witt and her MSNBC colleagues wished for ObamaCare and got it. But now they are finding out that the law is not all sunshine and roses, and that its negative effects will trickle down to ordinary Americans.

Below is a transcript of the segment:


ALEX WITT: One restaurant chain in Florida is now asking its customers to help foot the bill for ObamaCare. Diners at Gator’s Dockside are discovering a 1 percent surcharge added to their bills when they ask for the check. Joining me now, Josh Thomas, reporter for NBC affiliate WFLA in Tampa. So Josh, okay, explain this. I’m looking right now, by the way, at a receipt, and I’m seeing on this $22 bill a 20 cents ACA surcharge.

JOSH THOMAS: Basically it’s a 1 percent surcharge that this restaurant, Gator’s Dockside, is going to charge its customers. We do need to note that it’s not all the Gator’s Docksides here in Florida, but a select number basically in central Florida and some of them up in Jacksonville. Basically they say that they have to charge this 1 percent surcharge fee to cover the cost of the Affordable Care Act – ObamaCare. They claim that they’re doing this because they feel that they have to stay afloat and they do not want that insurance cost to impact their business in a negative way.

WITT: Okay, so what has been the reaction to this surcharge?

THOMAS: Well, it depends on who you ask. We’ve talked to several customers outside the restaurant in Lakeland, Fla. Some of them say they understand why the business is charging this extra fee. Others say that it’s just part of the cost of doing business and they don’t understand why there’s a sign on the front of the door as well as basically something that they hand customers inside the restaurant notifying them of this 1 percent surcharge. Here’s what some of the customers we talked to had to say.

CUSTOMER #1: Business just needs to operate, earn a profit, and maintain their associates and employees. Unfortunately, the consumer’s going to be paying for it.

CUSTOMER #2: I don’t agree with it, just because, you know, those type of charges are already given to us from the government in the various laws and actions that we must follow. But at the same time, I’m hungry.

THOMAS: Now I should also note that we did do an internal poll here at WFLA-TV in Tampa, and we found out that roughly about 65 percent of the people who were polled say they do not support this additional fee, and some of them say they wouldn’t even support the business if, indeed, they continue to charge that fee.

WITT: You know, okay, so it’s one thing to not support them, but I’m curious, Josh: is it even legal to just add on a surcharge like that? I mean, it’s essentially a tax.

THOMAS: Basically it is a tax, and quite frankly they say they’re doing it so they don’t have to have an additional tax on the customers who come in. But it is a 1 percent surcharge. One can ask the questions, well, why don’t you have a surcharge for the cost of electricity, or the cost of leasing out your business, or the cost of basically ordering the food that the people are going to eat. One can argue it, but it is their business, so I guess they can do however they want to do it.

WITT: Anyone worried about a ripple effect here, that other restaurant chains are going to follow suit?

THOMAS: It’s possible that others could follow suit. Now, as I mentioned before, these are the ones in central Florida as well as up in Jacksonville, but there are other ones located on the west side of the state here in Tampa as well as on the east side of the state in Orlando. They say they’re not going to charge this additional surcharge. They say they don’t understand why this particular franchise is choosing to do it, but they say that’s not going to be part of the way they do business. Again, we’ve seen other businesses that have done this. I know there’s a restaurant in Los Angeles that has also joined suit, so it’s possible that you could see businesses adding this fee, but at the same time, they could have that, as you say, ripple effect, and that negative effect whereas customers say, I’m not going to come buy a hamburger or some wings from you guys.

WITT: Absolutely. Okay, WFLA’s Josh Thomas. Thanks so much, Josh. Appreciate it. 

Business Coverage Taxes Wages & Prices Health Care Medical Insurance MSNBC ObamaCare Video Josh Thomas Alex Witt