Obama hits Romney on 'tax' reversal
July 6th, 2012
07:58 AM ET
2 years ago

Obama hits Romney on 'tax' reversal

(CNN) – President Barack Obama, using some of his sharpest campaign language to date, assailed rival Mitt Romney in an interview airing Friday for reversing his position on a fine included in the president's health care law.

A short portion of the interview was distributed by Obama's campaign early Friday. The remainder of the interview was not immediately available.

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Obama began by pointing to the law Romney enacted while governor of Massachusetts, which included a similar fine assessed to people who choose not to obtain health insurance.

"On the health care bill, Mr. Romney was one of the biggest promoters of the individual mandate," the president said in the interview with WLWT in Cincinnati. "In Massachusetts, his whole idea was that we shouldn't have people who can afford to get health insurance to not buy it and then force you or me, or John Q. Public to have to pay for him when he gets sick."

The so-called "individual mandate" was deemed constitutional last week by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 5-4 decision upheld the mandate under Congress' powers of taxation.

Most Republicans, eager to portray Obama as raising taxes on the middle class, immediately labeled the mandate a tax while vowing to repeal the law in Congress. But Romney's campaign, in a politically vulnerable spot given the similar mandate he enacted as governor of Massachusetts, labeled the fine a "penalty" on Monday.

The next day, the chairman of the Republican National Committee made an attempt at party unity, saying on CNN: "Our position is the same as Mitt Romney's position. It's a tax."

Romney himself weighed in on Wednesday, saying that while he agreed with the court's dissent that the mandate was unconstitutional, he accepted the majority ruling that the fine assessed to people who choose not to obtain health insurance amounted to a "tax."

He maintained, however, that the similar Massachusetts fine was a "penalty" since states have a power to assess mandates and the federal government does not.

In the interview Friday, Obama said the reversal from "penalty" to "tax" could be explained purely by politics.

"The question becomes, are you doing that because of politics?" Obama asked. "Are you abandoning a principle that you fought for, for six years simply because you're getting pressure for two days from Rush Limbaugh or some critics in Washington?"

Obama, using his position as an incumbent, said the presidency required more consistency than Romney was displaying.

"One of the things that you learn as President is that what you say matters and your principles matter. And sometimes, you've got to fight for things that you believe in and you can't just switch on a dime," Obama said.

Romney's campaign, in a statement, flipped that assertion back on the president.

"President Obama is right – as president, what you say matters," Romney spokesman Amanda Henneberg wrote in a statement. "It matters that President Obama told the American people that Obamacare was not a new tax, then sent his lawyers to convince the Supreme Court that it was a new tax, and now is insisting – again – that it is not a tax. Americans deserve straight answers from their president. Mitt Romney believes Obamacare is a job-killing law that raises a whole series of taxes, cuts Medicare, and gets between patients and their doctors. In order to repeal Obamacare, we must replace President Obama."

Despite Obama's assertion that Romney switched from "tax" to "penalty" for political purposes, his own campaign hasn't been immune from spinning the decision to downplay the justice's ruling that the mandate can only stand as a tax.

Asked Thursday whether Obama "disagrees with the Supreme Court decision that says it's now a tax," campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said "that's right."

"He's said it was a penalty," LaBolt continued. "You saw our arguments before the court."

And Jay Carney, White House press secretary, said again Thursday "this is clearly a penalty."

Obama's solicitor general, however, did argue in March that the individual mandate could be viewed as constitutional under Congress' taxation power. Donald Verrilli said the fee would be collected by the Internal Revenue Service on April 15, the day Americans pay their federal income taxes.

Asked by associate justice Samuel Alito "can the mandate be viewed as a tax," Verrilli responded "I think it could."

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Filed under: 2012 • Health care • Mitt Romney • President Obama
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. sonnie3

    If it looks like a tax (mandatory)
    and it walks like a tax (mandatory
    and it flys like a tax (mandatory)
    and it is mandatory? It most likly is a tax

    July 6, 2012 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  2. sonnie3

    As Jay Carney is getting tired of being less of a man in trying to help out obama, he shows signs of stress and overload and will most likely be gone soon. He has an impossible job to do and sooner or later he will hang up the deal and run for cover.

    July 6, 2012 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  3. Gurgyl

    I really do not care whether it is a fine, fee, tax or any other word. It is now a law. Mitt is a flip-flop. THIS IS A LAW. Yes, on Obama12.

    July 6, 2012 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  4. Dave

    I'm glad the Obama and the Democrats are finally taking the gloves off. For too long, the GOP has gotten away with their lies and mud-slinging and the Democrats just sit there and take it. It's about time they grew a spine and started calling Romney out for what he is: a lying flip-flopper who has no real solutions and is too cowardly to offer up any details for fear of offending the right-wing knuckle-draggers.

    July 6, 2012 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  5. thomas

    Why doesn't Obama go back to selling drugs like he did when he was a teenager, it seems like it is the only thing he has been good at.

    July 6, 2012 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  6. Ferret out the BS

    BFD whatever you want to call it it still means that health care will be paid by those that belong to a plan and those that don't. To make it acheive the savings and lowering of costs to everyone for health coverage, the group must be large and those that don't wish to belong will still pay to help the others get coverage. I have health insurance so it won't bother me but all of you out there that don't now and don't want it later are going to contribute one way or the other. At least that'll take the burden off my insurance that pays for your unisured ass and the costs will start dropping for me.

    July 6, 2012 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  7. Name

    In the words of Ricky Ricardo "Willard you have some splaining to do."

    July 6, 2012 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  8. WiredweirdinSF

    Kinda always slamming or hitting someone isn't he. The president who promised to bring our country together, which was ANOTHER LIE.

    July 6, 2012 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  9. livingston

    Gee, if Romney says it's a tax now, then he can no longer campain on his record in Mass. of not raising taxes. He can't have it both ways. If it's the "biggest tax increase" for the America, then it is also the 'Biggest tax increase' that Mass. ever had. Looks like he flipped from the frying pan into the fire.

    July 6, 2012 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  10. ladyfon

    And no comments about how he didn't know how bad it was. Was he not paying attention when he was SENATOR Obama?

    July 6, 2012 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  11. Harry From Pa

    Romney Flip-flops more than a fish out of water. Sad thing is Republicans rather spend money on other countries to help them rebuild instead of rebuilding America, or as Mitt calls it Amercia.

    July 6, 2012 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  12. Out Of Touch with reality

    hey obama, Where Are The JOBS you promised, that Senator was right, " YOU LIE "

    July 6, 2012 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  13. charles

    Romney has flip flop more than his age,his father, his sons that are not even national guards,his wife. and their pets combined.Its unprecedented an American presidential candidate hiding his money outside America. The corporations which are people are going to' finish ' us if their surrogate gets a chance. to the white house. God forbid!

    July 6, 2012 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  14. Indy

    Healthcare is not free and you can imagine the outrage from Republicans if there was no law that forced freeloaders to pay a penalty,afterall it is and was the Republican s that originally came up with the penalty for freeloaders.

    July 6, 2012 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  15. Keeping it Real

    "Obama said the reversal from "penalty" to "tax" could be explained purely by politics."

    Obama continues to ignore the Supreme Court ruling identifying it as a tax. In this case, he's giving Romney the credit for acknowledging the ruling, while he wants to cherry pick only what he wants to. Personally, I don't believe it can be a tax, given that it is assessed against an individual for not buying insurance.

    July 6, 2012 09:54 am at 9:54 am |