July 4th, 2012
01:06 PM ET
10 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. Michael

    Repuglican hypocrisy is at an all-time high in America! Mitt signs into law a healthcare mandate, now he say it's unconstitutional and demands repeal of a Healthcare plan he was the "father" of and similarly implemented in Massachusetts! Repuglican spin machine wants this to a non-issue, like the, evaporation of 5 trillion surplus, -8.9 GDP, 11 trillion national debt, 1.3 trillion deficit, 2.8 trillion in tax cuts (unpaid for)2 Wars (unpaid for), Medicare prescription plan (unpaid for), 3 trillion borrowed from China, a Wall Street, Banking, Auto, Mortgage crisis’s, losing over 800,000 jobs monthly and a economy on the brink of depression when President Obama took office! Repuglican spin is that this economy belongs to Obama! Well, when this country is out of the recession started under George Bush, I will agree! Until then, President Obama is still cleaning up repuglican mess of 6 years total control and 8 years Presidential control, whose policies and spending hit our economic structure, like the iceberg that struck the Titanic! Now, these same repuglican "Talking Heads" who sponsored, voted and defended these disastrous policies, want the "Keys" back too the car, because it’s been fixed up and is in running condition, "not perfect" just good enough so they can finish what they started! Well, I will not let the American people forget what they took 8 years to do, to this country! Just as Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett shouted "remember the Alamo" in Texas, I now shout "Remember what those eight years under George Bush and Repulican policies did to this country!" If President Obama had taken over with a economy, like what Clinton left Bush, Bush's economy would not even be applicable to the conversation! Out of 14 recessions including the Great Depression, 13 were started under a repuglican President, a democrat had to clean up the mess!

    July 4, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  2. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Romney referred to al the taxes he rased in MA as 'fees.' As for Romneycare, remember it helped fund abortions.

    July 4, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  3. Chill Out

    Let's turn this around a bit. If you have kids, you get a tax break for each child, correct? So if you have health insurance, you will also get a tax "break" versus if you don't. If you're married, you get a tax break. Single, you're taxed at a higher rate. This is all spin by the Republicans, and I pose a question to all you folks who are complaining about the new health care law... is your life REALLY going to change or go to poop because of it? For the majority of you, no, it won't, because you already have health insurance in some form. So quit yer whin'n!

    July 4, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  4. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    It is hard to figure out is Ronmeny is a socialist, communist, Taliban, or a plutocrat. Maybe he is a mixture.

    July 4, 2012 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  5. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    It looks like Fox foreign owned media told him what to say.

    July 4, 2012 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  6. Switters

    Is it too late for the GOP to run someone other than Mitt Romneycare.......?

    July 4, 2012 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  7. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    It is a tax on republican free loaders and deadbeats.

    July 4, 2012 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  8. Larry L

    Romney flip-flops so fast his own staff can't keep up with it!

    The terms "tax" or "penalty" mean little to those 99% of Americans who plan to follow the law and obtain the minimal insurance to cover the healthcare for themselves and their family. If you choose not to have the healthcare insurance you pay the penalty to offset the eventual bill the government will get to bail you out when you go to the E.R. for treatment – then stiff the hospital for the bill. The really poor will get assistance.

    Other provisions of the law will lower the costs of healthcare with "best practices", preventive medicine, and elimination of the false losses declared from failure to pay outrageous charges from the E.R. – over-stated losses used by hospitals to compensate for lost income to the I.R.S.

    July 4, 2012 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  9. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Let the Republicans continue to argue it out between themselves because they won't be in position to change "NOTHING and I mean "NOTHING". FORWARD Mr. President FORWARD.

    July 4, 2012 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  10. manhandler1

    Wow! Really? Are you flip flopping on your flip flop? You really look incredibly foolish. How Pathetic. What is the Supremes said the sky was green? Would you agree because THEY said it was? Like I said....How pathetic.

    July 4, 2012 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |

    Another flip flop ,and who cares ,the only people it would effect are freeloaders on the health system ,this loser romney the clown is going down the toilet with th rest of the republican bafoon party in Nov ,did you hear that fool cantor wouldn't even give his own state flood disaster flood aid ,how can anyone vote for these republican bafoons ,but its ok to give the oil companies a 40 billion dallar tax break they don't need ,Dem landslide coming .

    July 4, 2012 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  12. Dee

    Michael this is superb you explained it all and also all of the above you are right on the money

    Happy 4th of July and thanks to all our service men for the work they are doing or have done for our country.

    July 4, 2012 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  13. once upon a horse

    how could we NOT see this flip/flop coming??

    July 4, 2012 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  14. ptown

    Romney calls this a tax but says his mandate for MA was a penalty. Obamacare and Romneycare is the same thing. What the hell is he talking about.

    July 4, 2012 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  15. Myviewis

    Bottom line guys, Obamacare is a Knock-Off of Romneycare. Obama took a good recipe and messed it up trying to come up with his own recipe. It is a Tax per the Supreme Court, just as the Supreme Court upheld most of the American Affordable Act, Obamacare that if we don't buy a health insurance policy we can be taxed. If we can be taxed because we are disobeying the American Affordable Act per the Supreme Court than that's the way it is, unless it is changed down the road.

    July 4, 2012 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  16. vic , nashville ,tn

    Romney is not helping
    RNC chair doesn’t know his party presidential candidate stands
    Two mainstream media try to change the Supreme Court decision it didn’t work now they are coming up with new cooked poll numbers, Romney is not helping them also

    July 4, 2012 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  17. once upon a horse

    Mitt Romney must REALLY think the American people are STUPID. Unfortunately some ARE and will once again overlook this flip flop and want to vote Romney in 2012.

    July 4, 2012 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  18. Stephen in VA

    Every time Romney opens his mouth I hear a "flip" or a "flop."

    July 4, 2012 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  19. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Actually, ACA is a decent plan, but the supreme court changed it.

    July 4, 2012 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  20. Mike in Texas

    Let's see how long this argument carries out. If Mitt has to keep explaining why his law is a penalty and Obama's is a tax, it is more time wasted. Also, what it does is show that Mitt's plan is no different from Obama's. Romney will try to split hairs and thread a needle but the American people, with the exception of Obama haters will see right through him.

    July 4, 2012 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  21. Alex in Wisconsin

    And there you have it, straight from the horse's mouth. The headline should be "Romney admits to raising taxes while MA Governor".

    July 4, 2012 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  22. California

    Obama just gave the middle class a HUGE tax increase.


    July 4, 2012 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  23. 100 % ETHIO

    Why don't we give it a try, at least for the next 5 years?
    Then, let US figure out the death rates, related to health coverage.

    July 4, 2012 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  24. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Now that Mittens has admitted to raising taxes in MA, is it too late for the Kochs and Rove to denounce Mittens, save their $3 billion in negative ads for the 2016 election, and replace Mittens with Michele Bachmann?

    July 4, 2012 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  25. Jules

    So Romney was a big deal tax raiser in MA while governor.

    July 4, 2012 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
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