July 4th, 2012
01:06 PM ET
11 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. Mike

    For the vast majority of Americans, who have health insurance, there is no "tax". In fact, many of the key provisions in ACA will reduce healthcare costs (most pundits don't talk about the Accountable Care Organizations and other elements that are already having a positive impact". For those who don't have health insurance and can't afford it, there is no fine or "tax". For the remainder who refuse to get health insurance but can afford it, you freeloaders will have to pay 1% of your income, because the rest of us have to pick up your tab when you use medical services, and you will.

    By not asking people to contribute to their healthcare, the GOP is supporting freeloaders, just like they support corporate freeloaders through oil subsidies, loose bank regulations that inevitably lead to bailouts, loose environmental regulations that lead to high healthcare costs, etc. Democrats are the real party of fiscal responsibility.

    July 4, 2012 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  2. amarjeet

    Tax is not penalty as share of state & center is determined by Law Makers as it covers so many heads of collection & distribution tools. Penalty is to pay for failure to act as per gravity of violation of norms of conduct & legal behavior. Patient is a consumer & has to pay penalty for failure to become legal consumer to consume services provided in healthcare infrastructure. It is entirety & may go to state or center or even state healthcare funding for preventive health organization. It cannot go to consolidated fund of America & used for other purposes by appropriation. It is unique in its form as compared to taxes normally go into local areas, region or state in full without overheads. Penalty for non-insurance is spent on preventive measures like free vaccinations, emergencies like civil aid & administrative machine to detect & treat for safety of healthy & insured population. Penalty can never be termed as tax that conforms to a set of taxation principles & ration of states & central share in national revenue. In fact penalty in HealthCare Act for non-insurance is partial penalty on state & center in dispensing healthcare budget & coverage to noninsured low income & deprived groups. GOP & presidential candidates contention that penalty is a tax is beyond definition of tax. Taxes continue while penalty disappears as soon as violators become zero or negligible. Taxes are reviewed in each new budget while penalty continues for same or similar commitment. Taxes are subject to legal appeal & award by courts while penalty is not which is enforcement tool of a set of measures by state or local authorities.

    July 4, 2012 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  3. Wyman Eckelbarger

    The Supreme Court said it was a tax. There is no story here. Report the news don't spin it. At the end of the day it was presented as a penalty to congress but presented as a tax to SCOTUS. Either way it's the law of the land until further notice. Romney doesn't agree with it regardless of his aide. Romneys aide isn't running for Prez he is.

    July 4, 2012 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  4. Donkey Party

    California – Please, every single one of your comments is nothing but hate, ignorance, and racism. Look in the mirror.

    July 4, 2012 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  5. Veritas

    Yes, but then Romney went on to clarify that it wasn't a tax before it was.

    July 4, 2012 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  6. mikle

    Obama so much lie, so one more no make any deterrents.

    July 4, 2012 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  7. John The Electrician

    I now predict Bachman will be his VP pick. Great minds think alike.

    July 4, 2012 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  8. bardfast

    Errrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmmm, Mitt.... we have you on tape saying at least SEVEN times in 2006 that it's a "penalty"


    July 4, 2012 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  9. Gerry Daley

    As usual. Mitt waited a while to see which way his Right Wing Masters wanted this to be played, and then decided what "his" opinion was. If his public were to change their opinion next week, have no fear, Mitt would change his as well. The GOP has a principle-free candidate who will say and do anything to get votes. There's a word for people like him and it starts with a great big W.

    July 4, 2012 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  10. clarke

    Mitt is just a man in a suit and only says what he is told to say by the person/persons who are really running the show. He does what he is told to do only because he doesn't have a clue of what to do or say. He is just the front man and I can't vote for him because I have no clue what he really stands for. He is being lead by whom ever is the leader.

    July 4, 2012 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  11. gadzooks

    what is the difference what you call it, a tax, a fine, a mandate ? call, it a refrigerator for all that it matters

    July 4, 2012 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  12. maltytasker

    For all you Republicans who keep saying that Obama gave the middle class a huge tax increase with the ACA, please learn the facts before you complain about things you have no understanding of.

    July 4, 2012 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  13. cicName

    You have to be a Obama hater or a tea party member to believe romney on this. Not a tax in mass when he was governor but now that obama did it, it's a tax.

    July 4, 2012 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  14. Jim970

    "contradicting top aide"? It is Romney who is running. Why should I care about his "top aide" and what he says?

    July 4, 2012 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  15. Nodack

    Romney doesn't agree with something he championed when he was governor. What a sticky situation he is in. Republicans want to lynch Obama for Obamacare and their choice for President is the one Republican that started Obamacare. Romneys aide and spokesman say it wasn't a tax, but Romney now says it is a tax.

    July 4, 2012 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  16. truth3022

    You people are willing to pay taxes for local alcohol consumption but not for healthcare. Twisted if u ask me

    July 4, 2012 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  17. kevin

    Hold up, it's only the middle of the week, romney may change his mind again by the end of the week.

    July 4, 2012 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  18. steve

    Just wait till the law is really in focus come 2014. Then folks will be yelling that it is no different than a tax.

    July 4, 2012 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
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