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. Juliette

    Stop Obama-Romney Terrorism against Medical Marijuana Patients.

    July 4, 2012 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  2. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Cut Mittens some slack, he is still trying to decide if "Twix" is a candy bar or a cookie.

    July 4, 2012 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  3. Mollybee

    Oh, for Pete's sake! How in the world can anyone be so stoopid AND two-faced and still think he should be President of the United States?

    July 4, 2012 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  4. Harry Baxter

    Beadles
    I don't care what they call it – I'm just glad that the freeloaders are getting cut off the dole. For those of you who don't understand this basic fact – you are already paying for other people's healthcare.

    Freeloaders? Undoubtedly, there are some, but do guys like you ever at least consider the fact that some of these people, because of preexisting conditions, physical or mental infirmities, layoffs when their jobs get outsourced, etc just have no way of paying for insurance? Maybe you might want to share your ideas for a solution with us. Would you just lock the door to the ER and let them die? Have you ever considered the possibility that if some of these people just got a wellness checkup regularly, curable illnesses might be found earlier, and they wouldn't have to crawl into the ER weekly? Did you ever consider "There but for the grace of God go I?" If no one in your family suffers from this lack of a basic human need, you must come from a very small family, or you're Mitt Romney.

    July 4, 2012 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  5. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Any democrat who stands with the dead beat republican party in congress has no business being reelected.

    July 4, 2012 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  6. EffortPA

    Much to do about nothing. Who cares what is called? Only the idiots that choose to go without insurance are going to have to pay for it. Obama calls it a penalty, the Supreme Court calls it a tax, I call it the idiot's tax.

    July 4, 2012 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  7. Name

    @Beadles- You are 100% right. There are definitely things about the bill I don't like and years before some of the best parts take effect but it will definitely help a lot of people. Myself included. I don't believe I'd be considered a freeloader. Other than student loans and a couple of education grants, I've never taken a dime from the government. However, when I decided to go back to college for a career change and was dropped from full time status at work, I lost my insurance and cannot get a policy because of preexisting conditions. Not that I could afford the astronomical rates that are charged for individual plans anyway. In the meantime if any medical emergencies come up, I'll get whatever care I need, then file for bankruptcy. That seems to be how some people think it should stay.

    July 4, 2012 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  8. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Harry – the penalty is on those who can afford insurance and refuse to get it.

    July 4, 2012 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  9. je032735

    @Beadles- You are 100% right. There are definitely things about the bill I don't like and years before some of the best parts take effect but it will definitely help a lot of people. Myself included. I don't believe I'd be considered a freeloader. Other than student loans and a couple of education grants, I've never taken a dime from the government. However, when I decided to go back to college for a career change and was dropped from full time status at work, I lost my insurance and cannot get a policy because of preexisting conditions. Not that I could afford the astronomical rates that are charged for individual plans anyway. In the meantime if any medical emergencies come up, I'll get whatever care I need, then file for bankruptcy. That seems to be how some people think it should stay.

    July 4, 2012 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  10. waikikijohn

    Romney never fails to amaze with his flop on just about every issue. How his base can vote for this man & believe anything he say, cheez

    July 4, 2012 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  11. Thomas

    I think most get hot and bothered because they don't understand it and they scream SOCIALISM. While other conservatives do understand the need for a better healthcare system, but one regulated by the state rather then federally. It's understandable, but I'd prefer to provide better of quality of life now while states decide and adopt their own plan over time.

    Mittens is garbage.

    July 4, 2012 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  12. California

    The only, ONLY way it passed through the SC was that it was in fact a tax. IF democrats want to continue to either be ignorant of the facts then they're saying it was passed through the SC UNLAWFULLY.

    July 4, 2012 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  13. Nodack

    I don't care what you call it. A tax, a penalty, makes no difference to me. I do find it funny that Obama stole Romneys health care plan, but Romney can't call him on it because Romney is supposed to be against it because of he isn't his party will eat his children. I wonder if Romney has meetings to find out what he is supposed to be for and against so he doesn't keep getting them confused.

    July 4, 2012 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  14. oh ooooo! Oooops!

    Call him whatever you want Obama has always called this a penalty... Regardless of what the Supreme court called it... At least you can charge him for being inconsistent candidate like Romney who says whatever it is that will ge thim elected. He is not a man of principle.

    Obama did the healthcare and Gay marriage/DADT at great political cost to himself because he is being true to his beliefs...like it or not. Romney on the other hand, is the biggest weather vane candidate I have ever seen...doing an about turn at every issue he once supported and providing no rational explanation for his NEW beliefs. It is not a good look for a candidate to be so easily manipulated for political advantage. He just seems phony. He is not a man of character because I JUST CAN'T TRUST what he is going to say or do next. I can see how big money, corporate greet will trust him but, I just don't see how straight forward, ordinary folks can trust this guy.

    July 4, 2012 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  15. jake

    never have i seen such a whiny snivelling country as i have with the un-united states. no wonder your in the sad pathetic state your in. youve done it to yourselves, your getting what you deserve and now you have to pay the piper. stop complaining and maybe work together and everybody can have what the rest of the world has. affordable health care...educated citizens...low crime rates...respect from the rest of the world. none of what you have right now. take a good look at the gop....they are racist nazis in sheep's clothing. you might want to keep obama for another term. he's the only one who seems to get it. the american empire is crumbling...just like all other empires before them. sad too..you had such pontential...then you elected bush..the begining of the end for you.

    July 4, 2012 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  16. Donkey Party

    It's because of extreme ignorance and delusion from right-wingers like California and Myviewis that the country is in the sad shape it's in. They're also the reason why we need another civil war, so they can be eradicated like the cancers to society that they are.

    July 4, 2012 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  17. Pa

    Romney supporters: aren't you tired? Will you ever be able to know him? I mean, he just changes his position as he just wants. Does any body counts how many times he changes his positions?

    July 4, 2012 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  18. Dave in Arizona

    Wow. Romney's campaign just doesn't know what to do now. They set themselves up for failure, if the SCOTUS ruled in favor of the ACA. They can either agree with the ruling and abandon support of the conservative judge and all their past arguments, or they can continue to argue the same old points despite the ruling and just look like sore losers.

    But either way, they lose. The ACA has existed for years now and the term used for the penalty doesn't change the effect people have come to expect. A new round of complaints about it now is just childish–no matter what it's called.

    And the fact you have Romney still trying to separate it from Romneycare–again arguing what amounts to semantics–is just sad.

    Instead of taking defeat like a man and stepping back on the issue, he's finding every little irrelevant thing to complain about.

    July 4, 2012 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  19. gkpeterson

    Hey Mollybee,
    Why don't you ask Obama and find out?

    July 4, 2012 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  20. batjones

    The truth is that Mitt Romney mandated everyone in the state of Massachusetts to help pay for the rising cost of the medical coverage for his sick wife.

    July 4, 2012 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  21. Keith in SoJax

    There's the difference between the leader of a party and the leader of a country. A party leader will say anything to gin up his sycophants. We need a national leader, not a party leader as President. Here's how I rate the Republicans as qualifed to lead again: 30 out of 100. The Democrats are 55 out of 100. Both get failing grades but the Repubs are lower in my eyes because they lie CONSTANTLY. The adds they are running here in FL are AWFUL. When an ad is so riddled with lies that you instinctively their miserable, incompetent, opponent, you know it stinks. Are we DOOMED by type A personalities the NEED to tell everyone else what to do? Sorry, I'm 50 and this garbage makes me wish I could immigrate to Australia.........

    July 4, 2012 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  22. Pa

    Why would anyone dislike young adults staying under their parents health insurance until age 26?
    Why would anyone dislike when insurance companies not being able to deny coverage for a preexisting condition?

    July 4, 2012 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  23. Bobby

    I just cannot understand what the big deal is. Obamacare "tax" forces those who dont contribute to the health care system by insuring their own health to pay somehting-and even that is way too small, the "tax" should be much larger. Annual health insurance premiums for a single person are approximately $5000. The "tax" should be at least half that.

    July 4, 2012 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  24. The Prince of Common Cents

    Ann Romney: "Honey, which tie would you like to wear today: Red or Blue?"
    Mittens: "Red. No wait–Blue. No wait...how about Red AND Blue?"
    Ann Romney: "Oh, brother!"

    July 4, 2012 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  25. racegirl1

    Nice try CNN he didn't just contradict his own aide he contradicted himself. This want to be president flip flops more than a fish when he gets out of water. Willard the no backbone, don't stand for anything, position himself with the highest donator until the next higher donator comes along, off shore accounts, investing in firms who destroy human fetuses, had the hard drives from his administration disposed of (who knows what was on them) this man probably has more skeletons in his closet than we have bodies in Arlington want to run this country. You will actually vote for Willard the which ever the wind blows no back bone no morals candidate and watch this country be driving into the ground. Don't be surprised if he put out national parks, monuments etc. up for sale to the highest bidder. Being President to Willard is just another position he wants to hold, like a promotion in his company. If that phone rings at 3 in the morning old Willard will have to flip a coin to see what decision he should make. Yeah Willard, ALL the decisions of this country will rest on the shoulders you don't have.

    July 4, 2012 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
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