July 4th, 2012
01:06 PM ET
2 years ago

Romney calls health care mandate a 'tax,' contradicts top aide

(CNN) - Mitt Romney said the federal health care reform mandate constitutes a "tax" Wednesday, contradicting the way a senior adviser to his campaign characterized his position earlier this week.

But the similar individual mandate and fee he signed into law when governor of Massachusetts is not a tax, he said in a separate interview, citing the Supreme Court's decision last Thursday.

Of the federal law, Romney told CNN's Dana Bash and Shawna Shepherd, "Supreme Court is the final word, right? The highest court in the land? They said it's a tax didn't they?"

"So it's a tax, of course, if that's what they say it is," he continued.

Romney had first commented on the federal law in a CBS News interview Wednesday.

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The high court last Thursday upheld the law's individual mandate – which requires individuals who can afford it to obtain coverage, or otherwise pay a fee collected by the Internal Revenue Service - under Congress' taxation power.

But it allowed states have broader powers, which Romney cited as the reason the Massachusetts fee is not a tax.

"States can implement penalties and mandates and so forth under their constitutions, which is what Massachusetts did," he said in the CBS interview. "But the federal government does not have those powers, and therefore for the Supreme Court to reach the conclusion it did – that the law was constitutional – they had to find it was a tax, and they did."

The Massachusetts law has been compared by some Republicans and Democrats alike to the federal law, but Romney has repeatedly rejected similarities. Romney has argued his law was a "state solution to a state problem" and has maintained he would move to repeal the federal law if elected president.

Eric Fehrnstrom, the senior adviser to Romney's campaign, said in a Monday interview that Romney thought the fee that will be generated by the federal law was not a tax despite the Supreme Court's ruling.

"He agreed with the dissent written by Justice Scalia which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax," Fehrnstrom said on MSNBC. And, when further questioned as to whether Romney agreed with Democrats, who have argued the mandate is not a tax, Fehrnstrom said "correct."

In the CBS News interview, Romney affirmed that he agreed with the dissent - the minority opinion of the high court – regarding the validity of President Obama's health care law but accepted that the majority opinion was law.

"I said that I agreed with the dissent and the dissent made it very clear that they felt it was unconstitutional. But the dissent lost," Romney said. "It's in the minority. And so now the Supreme Court has spoken, and while I agreed with dissent, it's taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said that it's a tax and therefore it is a tax."

Acknowledging the individual mandate as a tax also gave Romney an opportunity to criticize Obama over the law. This is the line of criticism most Republicans have taken since the ruling. Obama had said while campaigning that the mandate would not raise taxes.

"And the American people know that President Obama has broken the pledge he made," Romney said in the CBS interview. "He said he wouldn't raise taxes on middle income Americans."

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama's reelection campaign, suggested in a tweet that Romney's different positions on the Massachusetts and federal laws were contradictory.

"Mitt: Fed freerider penalty is 'tax,' identical MA law is not. If he were in WH, parsley would be official veg: Twister, national pasttime," he posted.

In March, Fehrnstrom made headlines for saying in a CNN interview that the transition from the primaries to the general election was "almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."

Romney's Republican rivals seized on the remark, suggesting that voters could not trust Romney not to change his views as November approached.

Later that day, Romney stepped before the microphones to clarify his campaign's position.

"Organizationally, a general election campaign takes on a different profile," Romney said. "The issues I am running on will be exactly the same. I am running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative Republican governor. I will be running as a conservative Republican nominee, at that point hopefully, for president. The policies and positions are the same."

Earlier this week, GOP backer and Newscorp head Rupert Murdoch said in a tweet that Romney's staff could use some retooling.

"Tough O[bama] Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros," Murdoch tweeted on Sunday.

Former GE CEO Jack Welch followed Murdoch's tweet with one of his own on Monday, saying he hoped "Mitt Romney is listening to Murdoch advice [on] campaign staff..playing in league with Chicago pols..No room for amateurs."

– CNN's Gregory Wallace contributed to this report


Filed under: 2012 • Health care • Mitt Romney
soundoff (343 Responses)
  1. The Other Dale

    I like how those against it keep leaving out the truth because it ruins their arguments, and then scream about "liberals who leave out facts!" There's a reason why the majority of the public is actually okay with the SC decision – they understand facts, see it's only going to be beneficial and have moved on to other concerns ... like jobs the Republicans have promised but never produced, individual freedoms that the Tea Partiers want to take away, and concerns about Conservatives trying to turn the U.S. into a police-state.

    July 4, 2012 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  2. Indy

    "Supreme Court is the final word, right?" Romney told CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash and CNN Producer Shawna Shepherd. "Isn't that the highest court in the land? And they said it's a tax didn't they?

    "So it's a tax, of course, if that's what they say it is," he continued.

    Gosh Mitts finally gets it ! Supreme Court has final word so that means it is the law and always be the law, so there is no use wasting time and money mouthing off about it. The penalty should be called an anti socialist tax because it is the responsible thing to do,just like Republicans always say,no free riders and this penalty fee is what Republicans demanded in the past.Romneycare/Obamacare Potato/Potato

    July 4, 2012 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  3. California

    Liberals can get behind Hussein when he's "EVOLVING" yet can't when someone else does.

    Democrats hate EVERYONE that doesn't agree with them.

    July 4, 2012 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  4. Jim

    Clarified lol, try flip flopped!

    July 4, 2012 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  5. ST

    May be folks should be educated why we pay tax. If no tax is paid, no money will be in circulation in order to meet our needs such as, paying salaries, building roads, pay teachers, firefighters, etc, etc, and now meeting our healthcare requirement. In order to meet these requirements, we need to use our own money which we have in circulation and not printing more money.

    July 4, 2012 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  6. Pete/Ark

    Romney....like the weathe he is subject to change without notice...if you don't like this position, check the new version tomorrow.

    July 4, 2012 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  7. jean2009

    Flip-flopped again!

    July 4, 2012 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  8. w l jones

    With new construction ,more doctors,nurses ,drug ,manufacture job and healthy people it will balance out. Bless.

    July 4, 2012 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  9. California

    Anyone that thinks our tax money hasn't been abused lives in ignorance.

    July 4, 2012 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  10. SassyMe2

    Too many twists and turns in the Romney rhetoric! Should he become president, how do we place our trust in someone who seems so easily swayed or influenced? While I'm glad Rick Santorum is out of the picture, at least he was passionate and committed to his views – qualities Mr. Romney seems to be lacking.

    July 4, 2012 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  11. JohnRJohnson

    Romney shoots himself in the foot again. The so-called tax in the Affordable Care Act is precisely the same method used in Romney's health care mandate in Massachusetts. What this is is a penalty imposed via the tax code, which is quite different than an ordinary tax. More importantly, this "tax" will only be applied to those who can afford to purchase medical insurance but refuse to do so, which will amount to less than 1% of the population.

    As time goes on and the propaganda fades, more people will learn about the many good things that the Affordable Care Act does and they will forget about this ridiculous debate over whether it's a tax or a penalty. That is an argument for do-nothing ideologues who idolize or fear Grover Norquist. When Mitt Romney starts being asked which parts of the Affordable Care Act he wants to repeal, his approval ratings will go subterranean along with his chance of ever becoming president.

    July 4, 2012 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  12. Pedro

    Romney doesn't know what he believes. He'll simply say anything and everything to get elected. Even if he contradicts himself in a single sentence.

    July 4, 2012 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  13. NotFooledByDistractions

    "Clarifies"? Sounds more like more flip-flopping to me.

    How does Mr. Romney stand upright without a spine?

    July 4, 2012 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  14. shawn

    hahahahahaha! you people worry about words so much...who cares if it's a mandate or a tax, it's a fact we all need to live with it. Do you consider SS or Medicare a tax...who cares it's there, it works and it costs you money.

    We are the dumbest, cheapest and angriest country in the developed world who cannot take care of it's masses and is so messed up by "free enterprise" and the obsession with capitalism that we stick ot a system that benefits the few when we have the technology and skill to help the masses.

    I'm actually ashamed of this country since the Reagan years...

    July 4, 2012 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  15. Mark

    Flip flop. Flip flop. Is the Massachusetts mandate you initiated a 'tax' as well Mitt? Flip flop.

    July 4, 2012 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  16. 21k

    he is so confused, he can't tell where romneycare ends and obamacare begins. the are the same. maybe it's the heat.

    July 4, 2012 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  17. Anderson

    Romney double face yes it is

    July 4, 2012 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  18. SOUTHERN HOTTIE

    Flip? Meet Flop.

    July 4, 2012 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  19. dreamer96

    Romney does not pay his fair share of Fedral Income taxes, and we know he hides his money oversea...and just where is Romney's latest Federal Tax return...he still is adjusting the numbers I guess...

    Why do we even think he knows what a tax is...
    It is a penatly for those that do not have health Insurance Mitt...Get over it...all your friend own their insurance companies and get free health insurance, paid for by their stock holders..

    July 4, 2012 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  20. The King

    It's not a tax, it was upheld under Congress's authority to tax. If you don't have healthcare, you will have to pay a PENALTY on your taxes. If you have coverage, no penalty.
    I don't think romney, boehner, mcconnel, are that stupid, they just count on you being dumb enough to believe their lies.

    July 4, 2012 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  21. Milton K. Wiah

    God bless America. How can this man decide on a war situation? If this man is elected president, America is in
    trouble. His spokesman said he, Romney agreed it is not a tax. Now he changed his position that is a tax because
    the majority said it is a tax. And that did not answer the question, if he himself believes it is a tax.
    It is a tax and law because the majority believed that it is. But he, at the same time wants to repeal the law
    the majority voted for. How can this man go this far and the American people are not seeing this mess.

    July 4, 2012 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  22. AJ

    Romney speaks from both sides of his mouth, he will say anything to get elected, and he always does.

    July 4, 2012 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  23. Dfacts

    Politics as usual. Next.

    July 4, 2012 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  24. ArtInChicago

    One man's tax is another man's penalty. I will say this...Romney is disingenous. You didn't create jobs, you created wealth for your investors. Your healthcare plan in Massachusetts is the Affordable Care Act. Start being real and start answering questions when asked by the national media. You won't win this fight by bobbing, weaving and lying.

    July 4, 2012 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  25. "WHAT"

    When this Obamacare takes effect, ALL federal employees including congress MUST provide their own health insurance. The tax payers should not have to pay federal employee's health insurance anymore. It is MANDATORY to have health insurance, so now all federal employee's can pay their own or be TAXED! If Obamacare is good for us pee-on's then it good for the federal employee.. Look at the federal budget we save!!!

    July 4, 2012 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
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